Thursday, December 23, 2004

The Intestine Bone is Connected to the Nose Bone

I love reports such as this one.  Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical Center have demonstrated a link between alterations in the microflora of the intestinal tract and symptoms of allergic rhinitis.  They speculate:
Noverr and Huffnagle suspect that changes in gut microflora caused by widespread use of antibiotics anda modern high-fat, high-sugar, low-fiber diet could be responsible for a major increase, over the last 40 years, in cases of chronic asthma and allergies in Western industrialized countries.
The press release is based upon two studies, one published in August 2004 in Infection & Immunity; the second to be published in the January 2005 issue of the same journal.  The studies were done on mice, not humans, so it remains to be seen if there will be an clinical utility to the findings.  Even if there is not, the studies are interesting, because they show that two seemingly unrelated aspects of animal physiology are in fact related. 

Normally, the intestinal tract contains a variety of microorganisms.  Some are helpful, by facilitating digestion.  Others seem to serve no purpose for the host; they merely may be along for the ride, and a free lunch.  However, it is possible, also, that those organisms that seem to provide no benefit actually do us a lot of good. 

Keep that in mind, next time you are tempted to think of something -- or someone -- as a mere parasite.  Things are not always what they seem.  Ecology is full of surprises. 

And no, there is not really a bone in the intestines.