Specific gut bacteria could be used to identify people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) who might benefit from a specific diet, a new study suggests.
Researchers say the bacteria could be used as biomarkers to pinpoint IBS patients who could benefit from a low-FODMAP diet that avoids certain foods including some fruits and vegetables, milk, and wheat.
The findings are helping to shed light on the mechanisms behind the condition and potentially provide new treatments.
The new study used in-depth microbiome – bacteria – analysis and found that people with IBS can be divided into two groups with different collections of gut bacteria.
One group, which makes up around half of all patients, had a distinctive and abnormal profile to their gut bacteria.
According to the study, the group benefited greatly from a low-FODMAP diet.
Researchers found that this improvement correlated with a shift in the gut bacteria towards a much more normal, healthy profile.
They suggest that in the future these bacteria could be used as a biomarker to identify who is more likely to benefit from this diet.
Treatment plans could be tailored to people with the help of a more in-depth understanding of the link between these IBS-causing bacteria and the foods that trigger symptoms.
Dr Stephen Moss, joint first author and consultant gastroenterologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “IBS affects roughly one in 10 people globally, with limited effective therapies.
“The condition often has a huge impact on quality of life and it’s only been over the last decade or so that research has started to investigate the potential mechanisms that are involved.”
The scientists suggest the low-FODMAP diet has been shown to improve IBS in many cases, but is challenging to follow as it avoids certain fruits, vegetables, milk, and wheat products.
It often requires individuals to spend more time planning and preparing their food, along with having fewer options for convenience food.
The new study investigated the bacteria in 112 participants’ microbiomes in unmatched precision, using technology at the Wellcome Sanger Institute.
Two distinct microbiome profiles were identified in people with IBS.
In one group, the bacterial makeup of the gut was similar to healthy individuals while in the second group, known as IBSp, it was different.
People in both groups, and the people they lived with, followed a low-FODMAP diet for four weeks.
According to the research, while 75% of overall cases in this study improved with the diet, those with an IBSp microbial profile had a dramatic change in their gut bacteria.
After the four weeks, those with IBSp had a microbiome that resembled a healthy individual, and these individuals reported a higher degree of symptom improvement.
Dr Kevin Vervier, joint first author and senior staff scientist at the Wellcome Sanger Institute, said: “We are hopeful that this research could lead to a personalised approach to IBS, which is supported by genomic research.”
Further research is required to understand more about the link between the bacteria found in those with IBSp and IBS symptoms to see if these bacteria could be a new target for IBS therapies.
The research, published in Gut, was conducted by the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Cambridge, and Addenbrooke’s Hospital.