As evidence mounts to show that the microbes in our guts exert an influence far beyond the digestive system, some surprising connections have surfaced. One of the latest findings now suggests that there’s a link between the gut microbiome and bone health.
A study led by Harvard Medical School researchers at Hebrew SeniorLife, linked the microbes in our gut to bone density and strength. The hope is that the microbiome could be a possible target to treat conditions such as osteoporosis.
The collaborative research throws light on a developing field of study known as osteomicrobiology that focus on the gut microbiota’s role in the regulation of important processes related to the skeletal system.
Dr Douglas P. Kiel, a senior scientist at the Marcus Institute, conducted an observational study based off the findings of studies that looked at osteoporotic fractures in men. His team discovered that two types of bacteria, Akkermansia and Clostridiales bacterium DTU089, were linked to poorer bone health in older adults.
Akkermansia is often associated with obesity, while DTU089, a type of Clostridia bacteria, tends to be more common in individuals with lower physical activity and protein intake. This is important because previous research has shown that protein intake and physical activity are directly related to bone health.
“We found patterns in which greater abundance of microbiota were associated with worse measures of bone density and microarchitecture. In fact, some bacteria were associated with differences in the bone cross sectional area, suggesting the possibility that certain microbes could influence how the bone changes size with aging,” said Dr Kiel.
While it is too early to point to a specific bacterial species responsible for skeletal integrity, Dr Keil says that there are potential ways in which they exert their influence on it.
“One of the potential mechanisms is the microbiome’s influence on low grade inflammation that might affect bone cells,” Dr Kiel told Happiest Health. This influence can be explained by the release of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) by bacterial species in the gut.
SCFAs mediates inflammation which is responsible for how bone cells break down in the body. This occurs when the body has insufficient calcium from an individual’s diet.
“Another mechanism might involve the production of vitamin K compounds in the gut that could favorably influence bone cells,” says Dr Kiel, adding that vitamin K has positive influences on the skeleton presumably by way of adding important chemical factors to proteins contributing to bone formation.
The next step for this work involves finding specific pathways that link the gut microbiota and the skeletal system. This could set the groundwork for targeting the microbiome to influence skeletal health.
“We are currently about to begin a new study in which we will be giving people a combination of several probiotic bacteria with a prebiotic fiber to improve bone metabolism,” says Dr Kiel.