Coloured transmission electron micrograph of clostridium difficile bacteria

The bacterium Clostridium difficile infects nearly half a million people a year in the United States alone. Credit: Dr Kari Lounatmaa/SPL

Microbiome

Fibre aids fight against nasty gut infection

Well-nourished microbiome can shut out potentially lethal bacteria.

High-fibre diets might ease infections caused by a virulent and common bacterium.

Clostridium difficile is a leading cause of infections acquired in hospitals and residential care homes. The pathogen — which can cause diarrhoea, and intestinal pain and inflammation — kills tens of thousands of people worldwide every year.

Justin Sonnenburg and his colleagues at Stanford University School of Medicine in California infected mice with C. difficile. Mice fed high-fibre diets typically cleared the bacteria from their gastrointestinal tracts to below detectable levels in less than two weeks. But the bacteria persisted in mice that ate a low-fibre diet. The researchers attribute the difference to the positive effects of a high-fibre diet on ‘good’ bacteria in the gut.

Although preliminary, the research hints that improving people’s diet may help to mitigate illness caused by C. difficile and, perhaps, other gastrointestinal pathogens.