Landmark study looks at gut bacteria in people with kidney disease

A systematic review conducted by PhD candidate Jordan Stanford (right) has analysed how the composition of gut bacteria in people with kidney disease differs from those without the disease – providing exciting new insights into gut health.

The review looked at 25 past studies of gut microbiota in people with kidney disease, and found that there has been little research into how bacteria affects kidney health.

“There is a huge gap in the research at the moment. All of the studies acknowledge that these bugs are in the gut, but they don’t look at what the bugs are actually doing,” Ms Stanford explained. The review was supervised by Professor Karen Charlton, Dr. Anita Stefoska Needham and Dr. Kelly Lambert.

Dr. Lambert explained the study is the first of its kind, saying previous studies had been vague and lacked comparison.

“We know that people who have kidney disease, have a different composition of bugs in the gut and a different number. But, what hasn’t been looked at is, how does that compare to healthy people and controls?”

The research also included multiple variables by looking at people with kidney stones, transplants, and those on dialysis.

Out of the 25 studies, only three looked at diet, a figure that Ms Stanford and her colleagues found alarming.

“We want to find ways of manipulating the bugs in the gut, using food that will improve our health. We tried to find how previous studies on gut microbiota had measured diet and what were the effects? But we found that only three studies even considered diet in their study design, which is quite a massive gap for future research,” said Ms Stanford.

A local health issue on a global scale

The Illawarra-Shoalhaven has the highest level of kidney disease in Australia, with case numbers in the region double the national average.

There is currently no cure for kidney disease, with many patients having to go on dialysis three days a week for their lifetime or undertake a kidney transplant.

Ms Stanford and Dr. Lambert hope that more research into the gut microbiota will allow for more preventative measures through more targeted dietary strategies.

“We already have dietary guidelines for kidney disease, but the big red flag is that they ignore the impact of the gut microbiome on our health. We want to know: are there specific types of fruits and vegetables that have more of a beneficial effect on your gut health if you have chronic kidney disease, and if so, what are they?” said Dr. Lambert.

While kidney disease is generally a side effect of underlying health issues like diabetes, obesity and hypertension, about one quarter of cases are genetic.

Dr. Lambert was a renal dietitian for 15 years before becoming a full-time academic. She explained that these conditions contribute to the high rates of kidney disease in the Illawarra.

“We have high rates of obesity and diabetes and high blood pressure in the Illawarra and in Australia. It’s inevitable that we would have high rates of kidney disease as well.”

Ms Stanford said that the Illawarra is a prime spot to carry out this uncharted research.

“The more we look into the human microbiome and the more and more we learn, we are starting to realise this is kind of a separate organ. I am driven by the way that simple changes in diet can have a potentially massive role to play in improving health outcomes including via the gut microbiome. It is a simple treatment that is easy to do and the concept is getting a lot of attention from the general public and from medical professionals as well, which is really promising,” she said.

Recruitment is currently open for an IHMRI clinical trial by Ms Stanford, for people who are currently living with kidney disease.

For more information or to participate in the trial, you can register your interest on our clinical trials page.


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