Manipulating the gut microbiota to maintain health and treat disease

Microb Ecol Health Dis. 2015 Feb 2;26:25877. doi: 10.3402/mehd.v26.25877. eCollection 2015.


Background: The intestinal microbiota composition varies between healthy and diseased individuals for numerous diseases. Although any cause or effect relationship between the alterations in the gut microbiota and disease is not always clear, targeting the intestinal microbiota might offer new possibilities for prevention and/or treatment of disease.

Objective: Here we review some examples of manipulating the intestinal microbiota by prebiotics, probiotics, and fecal microbial transplants.

Results: Prebiotics are best known for their ability to increase the number of bifidobacteria. However, specific prebiotics could potentially also stimulate other species they can also stimulate other species associated with health, like Akkermansia muciniphila, Ruminococcus bromii, the Roseburia/Enterococcus rectale group, and Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. Probiotics have beneficial health effects for different diseases and digestive symptoms. These effects can be due to the direct effect of the probiotic bacterium or its products itself, as well as effects of the probiotic on the resident microbiota. Probiotics can influence the microbiota composition as well as the activity of the resident microbiota. Fecal microbial transplants are a drastic intervention in the gut microbiota, aiming for total replacement of one microbiota by another. With numerous successful studies related to antibiotic-associated diarrhea and Clostridium difficile infection, the potential of fecal microbial transplants to treat other diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and metabolic and cardiovascular disorders is under investigation.

Conclusions: Improved knowledge on the specific role of gut microbiota in prevention and treatment of disease will help more targeted manipulation of the intestinal microbiota. Further studies are necessary to see the (long term) effects for health of these interventions.

Keywords: Clostridium difficile; fecal microbial transplants; inflammatory bowel disease; irritable bowel syndrome; obesity; prebiotics; probiotics.