Bacteriophages – An Alternative to Antibiotics?
Introduction to Bacteriophages
People taking antibiotics often develop resistance and experience gastrointestinal distress, since antibiotics kill both bad and good bacteria in the gut. And by killing off all bacteria, antibiotics create a competitive environment for problem-causing strains like E. coli to grow and flourish. For instance, many women often develop serious gut infections after taking antibiotics to treat simple urinary tract infections. But what if you could selectively eliminate problem-causing bacteria without harming the good bugs in your gut? Introducing bacteriophages…
Bacteriophages are viruses that infect only certain bacteria—and they’re naturally everywhere. Frederick Twort discovered “bacteriophages”—from the Greek for “bacteria eater”—in 1915. (Not that they were hard to find; bacteriophages are abundant on land, in the water, and within any form of life harboring bacteria.)
Most people are shocked to discover that the food industry has been using bacteriophages for decades to ensure food safety. For example, they are currently used to ensure pipe surfaces in processing facilities are free from common bacteria that cause foodborne illness. (Don’t be scared—bacteriophages are so specific they don’t have the capacity to infect even closely related bacterial species, let alone you.)
We decided to put them in a pill and give them to people with gut distress. Our recent Bacteriophage for Gastrointestinal Health (PHAGE) Study was the first of its kind to provide patients with bacteriophages in the form of a dietary supplement. We showed for the first time that this type of treatment has no apparent side effects in humans—at least with short-term use. And we demonstrated bacteriophages can be used to selectively combat specific problematic GI pathogens (E. coli in the case of our study) without causing any type of infection or disrupting the body’s other healthy bacteria.
To our surprise, study participants also showed a boost in immune function and those with hypercholesterolemia exhibited decreases in LDL-cholesterol (i.e., your bad cholesterol). This gives the nutrition community hard evidence that an individual’s microbiome may be related to chronic disease. Our second study, the PHAGE-2 Study demonstrated that these bacteriophages can help extend the benefits of consuming probiotics such as Bifidobacterium lactis.
Our Ongoing Research
Beyond the PHAGE Study
We are currently considering how these novel bacteriophages may be useful in eradicating nutritional deficiencies due to chronic diarrhea in developing countries.
Bacteriophage for Gastrointestinal Health (PHAGE) Study: Evaluating the Safety and Tolerability of Supplemental Bacteriophage Consumption
2019. Journal of the American College of Nutrition
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