Keenan: A Hunch About Prostate Cancer

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The gut has been described as our “second brain” due to the close connections between the two body systems. According to the Cleveland Clinic website, “The gut and brain communicate not only through the nervous system, but also through hormones and the immune system.”

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Researchers have just found a fascinating difference in the intestines of men with and without prostate cancer. According to a paper presented at the annual congress of the European Association of Urology, the gut microbiota profiles of men with prostate cancer were richer in Prevotella 9 and Escherichia-Shigella, a pathogen that causes diarrhoea. They had lower levels of other bacteria such as Jonquetella, Moryella, Anaeroglobus and Corynebacterium.

Although prostate cancer is the most common male cancer worldwide, rates vary by geographic location. In a review of this study on, lead author Professor Peter Bostrom of the University of Turku says that genetics is certainly a key factor in prostate cancer. However, he adds that “differences in health care policies, but also variation in lifestyle and diet” could also contribute to risk. The evidence to support this comes from the observation that men who move from low-incidence areas to places where prostate cancer is more common appear to be at higher risk. This also continues with their male offspring.

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Another recent study found that the gut microbiome changes after having COVID-19. While their study is published in Research Square and has not yet been peer-reviewed, Brazilian microbiologist Viviani Mendes de Almeida and colleagues found that “SARS-CoV-2 infection also alters the composition of the gut microbiota, a finding related to the severity of the disease in patients with COVID -19.”

They did this work by transferring human fecal samples from those patients to germ-free mice. They found some tantalizing results, including impaired cognitive function in the mice and “increased lung inflammation and increased susceptibility to lung infection caused by an antimicrobial-resistant strain of Klebsiella pneumoniae.” It’s important to note that the mice did not have COVID-19: This research studies the long-term effects after the virus has been cleared.

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Getty Images/iStockphoto
Getty Images/iStockphoto Photo by TL Furrer /Getty Images/iStockphoto

Another fascinating aspect of the gut microbiome is its possible link to human personality traits. Oxford University researcher Katerina Johnson found a link between the bacteria in your gut and your personality. It seems that diversity in the gut is a good thing. Writing in the Human Microbiome Journal, Johnson notes that “people with larger (real-life) social networks tend to have a more diverse microbiome, suggesting that social interactions may shape the microbial community of the human gut.”

He also found that “abundances of specific bacterial genera are shown to be significantly predicted by personality traits.” She lists 23 bacteria that showed a significant association with psychological traits in adults, children, and mice. For example, Faecalibacterium and Oscillibacter are correlated with depression in adults. Quite a few bacteria appear in higher numbers in children with autism. And interestingly, Turicibacter shows links to both depression and sociability in mice.

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Are intestinal microorganisms contagious? It seems so, at least in chimpanzees. “Although the mother provides the main inoculum for the newborn’s microbiome,” writes Johnson, “the composition of the microbiome throughout the life of the individual may be more strongly influenced by social interactions.” He also cites evidence of a relationship between the diversity of the gut microbiome and sociability in human infants. Men, by the way, tend to have a more diverse gut microbiome than women.

As for what it can do with your gut biome, Johnson makes a positive mention of probiotics, noting that “meta-analyses provide support for their beneficial effect on stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, even in healthy humans and those suffering from psychiatric conditions.” It’s also worth noting that you don’t have to take your probiotics in pill form. You can get natural probiotics from foods like kefir, kombucha, raw cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Johnson adds, “Fish consumption was positively associated with genera richness of the gut microbiome, perhaps due to exposure to different bacterial genera that inhabit marine ecosystems.” Of course, you should always consult with your healthcare provider when embarking on any new medical adventure.

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Many scientists have had a “gut feeling” about the importance of what’s in our stomachs and what goes on in our brains. Entire books have been written on the subject, such as The Second Brain by Dr. Michael D. Gerson. That book came out in 1999 and pretty much coined the term neurogastroenterology. We have learned a lot since then and a clear conclusion is to try to avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics that can wreak havoc on the intestinal flora. So eat a good, diverse diet, perhaps with a little yogurt and kimchi, and it will probably benefit both your body and your mind.

Tom Keenan is an award-winning journalist, public speaker, professor at the University of Calgary School of Architecture, Planning, and Landscape, and author of the best-selling book, Technocreep: The Surrender of Privacy and the Capitalization of Intimacy.

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