Gut bacteria play vastly different roles in males and females even when the microbe balance of the gut looks exactly the same, Victoria University researchers have found.
A study of gut bacteria in chronic fatigue sufferers found specific bacteria were related to debilitating symptoms.
Even when the balance of gut bacteria looked the same in each gender, the results show that certain bacteria, such as Streptococcus, Lactobacillus and Clostridium, can behave differently in males when compared with females.
The findings could change the “one size fits all approach” in which digestive issues, particularly in people with chronic fatigue syndrome, are treated.
Lead researcher and PhD candidate Amy Wallis says the study, published in Scientific Reports, also found clear evidence supporting the microgenderome – which refers to the relationship between bacteria, the immune system and sex hormones – in humans.
“We can no longer assume that a certain type of bacteria is going to do the same job in males and females, and now need to consider that each gender may respond differently to the same treatment,” Wallis says.
In a surprise finding, Wallis says high levels of Streptococcus bacteria in the gut related to more problems for males but less for females.
“This and other results with Lactobacillus bacteria show that caution is needed when using probiotics as, in some cases, it could do more harm than good,” she says.
With about 70% of the immune system sitting in the gastrointestinal tract, Wallis said disturbance in gut bacteria is directly linked to physical health and has been connected to autoimmune disease.
“There are trillions of bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract which play intricate and complex roles in achieving and maintaining both a balanced gut and optimal health so an imbalance can have wide-reaching effects.”
Victoria University’s Emeritus Professor Dorothy Bruck and Dr Michelle Ball, together with microbiologist Dr Henry Butt from Bioscreen Medical and Dr Don Lewis of CFS Discovery Clinic were also involved in the study.
“This powerful information shows us that we need to think about the gut differently when it comes to males and females,” Dr Ball says.
“It challenges the idea that bacteria are either good or bad because we now know that a good balance of bacteria for one person may not be good for the next person, so taking a probiotic without knowing what your individual system looks like may actually do more harm than good.”