Can fiber help gut bacteria fight antibiotic resistance?

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Eating more fiber could be the key to having less antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the gut. Alba Vitta/Stocksy
  • Fiber is an essential part of a healthy diet, and researchers are discovering even more about its importance.
  • Antibiotic resistance has become a growing problem in recent years, increasing the risk of serious illness and limiting treatment options.
  • A recent study found that increasing fiber in the diet from various food sources could help reduce antibiotic resistance in the gut.

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing problem. It happens when microorganisms like bacteria adapt so that antibiotics cannot kill them. People can get more serious infections and illnesses when antibiotic resistance increases. Experts are working to understand why antibiotic resistance occurs and how to reduce it.

A study Posted in mBio examined the impact of fiber on antimicrobial resistance.

The researchers found that a diverse diet high in fiber was associated with lower levels of antimicrobial resistance in gut bacteria.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, fiber is a carbohydrate that the body does not digest well. However, dietary fiber is essential for a healthy gut. There are two main types fiber:

  • Soluble dietary fiber dissolves in water and provides certain nutrients to the body.
  • Insoluble dietary fiber does not provide nutrients but helps the body in other ways.

The fiber provides a variety of health benefits to the body. For example, it helps clean out buildup in the intestines, thereby decreasing the risk of colon cancer. All types of fiber also help increase feelings of fullness, helping people consume appropriate nutritional amounts.

However, the benefits of fiber may go even further than what health benefits experts have already discovered.

Antimicrobials are drugs that doctors use to treat infections caused by microorganisms. One of the most common examples would be antibiotics, which doctors use to treat bacterial infections. Sometimes “antimicrobial” and “antibiotic” can be used interchangeably, depending on the CDC.

Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria or other microorganisms adapt to become resistant to the effects of antibiotics.

The body is home to trillions of microbes or bacteria which are collectively known as microbiota.

In recent years, the problem of antibiotic resistance has worsened, leading to serious illness and even death. Many groups and organizations have drawn attention to the problem, including the Antimicrobial Resistance Fighter Coalition. The group explained in a recent Facebook post:

“A study published in The Lancet recently found that of the 1.27 million deaths directly attributable to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in 2019, 73% were caused by just six pathogens. That’s why it’s so important for everyone to be aware of antimicrobial resistance and take steps to better understand and prevent it.

However, there are many unknowns about how diet might impact antimicrobial resistance, and this relationship was something the researchers in the current study sought to examine.

In the study, the researchers looked at the diets of more than 250 participants as well as the gut microbiome genes of those participants. Specifically, they looked for antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs).

Study participants were healthy adults between the ages of 18 and 66, and the majority of participants were Caucasian. The researchers saw that there was great diversity in the composition and amount of ARG among this relatively small population.

The researchers collected data from the participants, including diet, physical activity levels and blood samples. Participants provided stool samples so researchers could examine the genetic makeup of participants’ gut microbiomes.

The researchers found that “people who ate varied diets high in fiber and low in animal protein had fewer antibiotic resistance genes.”

Author of the study Dr. Danielle G. Lemay explained their findings to Medical News Today.

“We found that people who eat more diverse diets with more soluble fiber have lower numbers of antimicrobial resistance genes in their gut microbiomes. Therefore, a diverse diet high in soluble fiber potentially reduces the risk of antibiotic-resistant infection.
— Dr. Danielle G. Lemay

There are limitations to the current study. Its observational nature means it could not pinpoint a cause and relied on self-reporting of dietary data.

According to Dr. Lemay, more research is needed on the impact of animal protein on ARGs and to assess the impact of participants’ use of antibiotics or other treatments that may have contributed to the ARGs detected.

Dr. Lemay went on to explain:

“In the study, we looked at people at a specific time. What we need to do in the future is a study where we feed people a diverse diet high in soluble fiber to see if we can reduce the antimicrobial resistance of their gut bacteria.

But overall, the results of this study are encouraging because they link simple diet steps to reducing health issues like antimicrobial resistance.

If further research confirms these results, this could change dietary recommendations. As people change their diets, we might even see a decrease in antimicrobial resistance.

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