The Connection Between Household Chemicals And Gut Microbiome

Your gastrointestinal tract is filled with bacteria, protozoa, viruses, and fungi, which we collectively refer to as the “gut microbiome”. Although this sounds a little strange and even a little unhealthy, your gut microbiome lives throughout your intestinal tract to keep you healthy. Interestingly, a recent study has tied the health of the gut microbiome in children to common chemicals found in their homes. (1)

Household Chemicals And Gut Microbiome Study

Gut microbes assist with important functions ranging from nutrient absorption to immunity. An unhealthy microbiome can contribute to diseases such as obesity, asthma, and dementia. According to the lead author of the study, Courtney Gardner, assistant professor in the Washington State University Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the study found that children with higher levels of chemicals in their bloodstream also showed differences in their gut microbiome. (1)

Researchers measured toddlers’ and preschoolers’ blood and urine to test levels of “ubiquitous semi-organic compounds”. These compounds included phthalates and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) found in a long list of household items like detergents and personal care products, carpets, furniture, and non-stick cooking products. They then used fecal samples, to study the children’s gut microbiomes. (1)

Household Chemicals And Gut Microbiome

The children with higher levels of PFASs in their blood had lower amounts and less diversity in their bacteria. For those with increased levels of phthalates, there was a reduction in fungi populations. According to Gardner, this correlation between the chemicals and less abundant bacterial organisms is concerning. (1)

“These microbes are perhaps not the main drivers and may have more subtle roles in our biology, but it might be the case that one of these microbes does have a unique function, and decreasing its levels may have significant health impacts,” she says. (1)

Household Chemical Exposure

We are all exposed to these chemicals in our homes every day, as they are found in our air and the dust on surfaces. Young children are more susceptible to the chemicals because they put things in their mouths and also play and crawl on the floor. (1)

Household Chemicals And The Adapting Gut Microbiome

A startling discovery was that children with high levels of chemical compounds in their blood had several types of bacteria in their gut, specifically used to clean up toxic chemicals. Dehalogenating bacteria are not typically found in the human gut but instead are used for “bioremediation”. This is a process used to degrade persistent halogenated chemicals like dry-cleaning solvents from the environment. (1)

“Finding the increased levels of these types of bacteria in the gut means that, potentially, the gut microbiome is trying to correct itself,” says Gardner who hopes the study will provide an important diagnostic tool. She also hopes her team’s research can shed light that contributes to developing probiotic interventions that will lead to improved health outcomes. (1)

Household Chemicals And Gut Microbiome Health

“While these data do not denote causation, they offer an indication of the types of organisms that may be impacted by exposure to these compounds and provide a springboard for future research,” she says. “Gaining a more holistic understanding of the interactions between human-made chemicals, the gut microbiome, and human health is a critical step in advancing public health.” (1)



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