In a new study, researchers found that what we eat can affect the outcome of chemotherapy—and likely many other medical treatments—because of ripple effects that begin in our gut.
They found that diet can cause microbes in the gut to trigger changes in the host’s response to a chemotherapy drug.
Common components of our daily diets (for example, amino acids) could either increase or decrease both the effectiveness and toxicity of the drugs used for cancer treatment.
The discovery opens an important new avenue of medical research. It could have major implications for predicting the right dose and better controlling the side effects of chemotherapy.
The finding also may help explain differences seen in patient responses to chemotherapy that have baffled doctors until now.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Virginia.
Doctors have long appreciated the importance of nutrition on human health, but the new discovery highlights how what we eat affects not just us, but the microorganisms within us.
The changes that diet triggers on the microorganisms can increase the toxicity of a chemotherapeutic drug up to 100-fold, the researchers found using the new lab model they created with roundworms.
The found the same dose of the drug that does nothing on the control diet kills the [roundworm] if a milligram of the amino acid serine is added to the diet.
Further, different diet and microbe combinations change how the host responds to chemotherapy.
The findings show that single dietary changes can shift the microbe’s metabolism and, consequently, change or even revert the host response to a drug.
In short, this means that we eat not just for ourselves, but for the more than 1,000 species of microorganisms that live inside each of us and that how we feed these bugs has a profound effect on our health and the response to medical treatment.
One day, doctors may give patients not just prescriptions, but detailed dietary guidelines and personally formulated microbe cocktails to help them reach the best outcome.
The lead author of the study is Eyleen O’Rourke of UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences.
The study is published in Nature Communications.
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