A new study by scientists from the Experimental and Clinical Research Centre and Max Delbruck Centre for Molecular Medicine in Berlin has warned that high salt consumption may prove fatal to certain gut bacteria.
The study shows that high salt consumption may prove fatal to certain gut bacteria, and that this could contribute to high blood pressure and diseases affecting the immune system.
The researchers found that a version of Lactobacillus is destroyed when they are in high salt diet.
Lactobacillus, a type of gut bacteria found in some fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, and cheese are considered “good” bacteria; it inhibits the growth of several multidrug-resistant bacterial pathogens and may also help to reduce kidney inflammation.
The researchers found that a version of Lactobacillus found in mice is destroyed when they are fed a diet high in salt.
The high-salt diet also caused the mice’s blood pressure to rise and triggered the activation of inflammation-inducing immune cells, called TH17 cells.
The authors found that encephalomyelitis symptoms and TH17 cell count could be reduced by giving the mice a probiotic treatment of Lactobacillus, which also stabilised the mice’s blood pressure.
The authors then attempted to replicate their findings in humans.
They recruited 12 healthy men who consumed six extra grams of salt each day for two weeks, effectively doubling their salt intake.
By the end of the two weeks, the authors found that in most of the participants, Lactobacillus had been eliminated from their microbiomes – the ecosystem of organisms that live in our digestive system.
Like the mice, the men in the study also had higher blood pressure and increased TH17 cell count.
Although scientists already know that TH17 cells are affected by the gut microbiome, the finding that salt kills off healthy bacteria in the microbiome is new.
More and more, scientists are investigating the role that bacteria play in diseases, but there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to how the body interacts with the bacteria that reside in the gut.
The authors behind the study argue that more research is needed to better understand how gut health affects the health of the body’s other systems, such as cardiovascular health, and the extent to which probiotics might provide useful treatments for conditions such as high blood pressure.
“We should start to see our gut microbiome as a viable target for treating conditions that we know are aggravated by salt, such as high blood pressure and inflammation,” says study lead Prof Dominik N Müller.
“We can’t exclude the possibility that there are other salt-sensitive bacteria that are just as important as Lactobacillus,” he continues.
“This could be the tip of the iceberg in targeting gut bacteria for treating serious illnesses.”
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