20th May 2020

COVID-19 FAQ: Does the health of our gut bacteria affect the how we experience the illness?

20th May 2020

Curated by Linda May-Zhang

Research suggests that the composition of our gut microbiome (the types of bacteria living in our intestines) may play a role in how Covid-19 affects us because of the way they regulate inflammation in the body.

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Infection by the novel coronavirus is often associated with fever, inflammation of the lungs, persistent cough, muscle pain or even loss of smell. However, a significant number of people (both with mild and more serious cases of Covid-19 develop gastrointestinal (gut related) symptoms such as diarrhoea, vomiting and abdominal pain. A study of patients admitted in a Wuhan hospital during the Covid-19 outbreak confirmed that people with gastrointestinal symptoms experienced a more severe version of the disease.

But what is the link between Covid-19 and microbes in the gut? It’s the molecule known as ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) that the SARS-CoV-2 virus attacks to get into our cells. ACE2 is present not only in the lungs but in the gut as well. Researchers found that the risk of extreme inflammation (which accompanies severe cases of Covid-19) varied according to the composition of the gut bacteria of individuals, offering clues on how much the disease would affect them. This was discovered when they created inflammation ‘risk scores’ (based on the level of biomarkers – certain proteins – in the blood) to predict which patients may experience a more severe form of the illness. The study does not suggest that having a healthy gut microbiome will prevent severe Covid-19 but highlights the importance of keeping the gut healthy by eating fibre-rich whole foods and limiting sugar and fat-heavy processed food.

Here is the current state of science on a Sparrho pinboard. NB: The pinboard contains research papers that have not been peer-reviewed yet, meaning that they have not gone through the standard scientific validation process yet.

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Curated by

Linda May-Zhang

Linda is a Postdoctoral Fellow, PhD in Pathology and Molecular Medicine, affiliated with Vanderbilt University, University of Cincinnati, Case Western Reserve University and Northwestern University.

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