Speaking to Lusa agency, researcher Conceição Calhau, from NOVA Medical School and from the CINTESIS research unit, which coordinated this work, explained that the team concluded “that the severity [da infeção] being higher, the diversity of the intestinal microbiota was lower”.
“There are three types of intestinal flora imbalance: either we have more pathogens, or less of the good ones, or we have a third one, which is very frequent, which is having less of everything, therefore, less diversity,” said the researcher, explaining that the greater monotony of bacteria is often due to the “wrong lifestyles routine and that they are always enhancing the same bacteria to be present”.
“The others all start to get weakened if there is no substrate at the bottom to live on,” he added.
This study, funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) and Biocodex, is the first one carried out in Europe on the impact of the intestinal microbiota (set of bacteria) on the severity of covid-19 and involved 115 Portuguese people diagnosed with the disease in several hospitals from north to south of the country. It took place between April and July 2020.
“The transmissibility of the virus was enormous, but the symptoms and disease of covid, especially in the most severe cases, were a smaller percentage and we were talking about individuals with obesity, hypertension and diabetes. (…). , those who have in common an alteration of the intestinal flora”, explained Conceição Calhau.
Speaking to Lusa on the eve of World Microbiota Day, which is marked on Sunday, the specialist said: “We have realized that these beings who live with us, especially this part of the intestinal flora, the bacteria in the intestine, have a very important role metabolic, that is, what our lifestyles and our diet are, changes these microorganisms in order to later become associated with obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, etc.”
Conceição Calhau also recalls that the imbalance of the microbiota is closely associated with inflammatory conditions and that, therefore, diseases such as diabetes or obesity have in common “a low-grade chronic inflammation process”.
“It is already known that this characteristic of the microbiota, which is a dysbiosis, an imbalance, is strongly associated with this inflammatory response and, on the other hand, the ability of the immune system to respond is different because the bacteria in our body are in everything that involves contact with the external environment and our organism. They are in barrier places and the intestine is one of them,” he said.
It also underlines the importance of these bacteria to “present to the immune system what is the most important information”.
“They will present to the organism what is actually good, which is not good, that is, what is of its own, and the organism knows how to recognize, and what is not its own. And in what is not its own, what is is or is not a threat,” explained the investigator.
Conceição Calhau insists on the importance of this balance: “The immune system is developing a lot in line with these microorganisms”.
Referring to the conclusions of the investigation he coordinated, Conceição Calhau exemplified: “For a diversity lower than 2.2, the risk of having a severe condition is 2.85 times greater. (…) In fact, if I have a microbiota with an index of lower diversity means that I have a much higher risk of having a less positive development of the disease and, therefore, more severe conditions”.
In the patients involved in the study there was “a microbiota fingerprint”, the expert said, stressing: those who were hospitalized “had many more bacteria, which use more animal proteins as an energy substrate, and much less of those that use fibers and which are the ones that produce compounds that are protective for the organism”.
He also said that he has no doubt that with the pandemic people have become more sensitive to issues related to food and lifestyles.
“In scientific and medical terms, the intestinal microbiota has been the subject of the last 15 years. It started with its strong connection to obesity and we are already in its strong connection to mental illnesses”, said the researcher, stressing: “This also reinforces that we have to take care of these microorganisms from an early age”.
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