The Link Between Gut Bacteria and Sepsis

Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles | May 4, 2018

Sepsis kills 250,000 people each year. But what is sepsis and how do we protect ourselves from it? In very basic terms, sepsis is a complication that occurs during an infection. It is usually treated with antibiotics that kill the bacteria causing the initial infection – but it’s often too late. Ultimately, it shuts down vital organs and leads to death.

A recent study at the University of Pennsylvania proposed that the use of gut microbes could potentially protect against sepsis. To test their hypothesis, researchers conducted their study on mice. They found that the use of gut microbes, also known as healthy bacteria, increased the levels of antibodies in those mice. With the increased level of antibodies, the mice were able to fight off the infection and, therefore, avoid sepsis. The antibodies controlled the inflammation from the infection and steered clear of the cascade of events that lead to organ failure and death.

The University of Pennsylvania scientists also noted that in past research, they have found a possible link between decreased immunoglobulin A (IgA) – which is an antibody involved in immunity – and an increased risk of death from sepsis.

This study found that IgA levels were increased after exposure to gut microbes. They even went a step further and injected blood from the mice with elevated IgA into mice who were experiencing sepsis. This resulted in longer survival rates than those of septic mice that were not injected with elevated IgA blood.

This fascinating research, which has been published in the Cell Host & Microbe Journal, is a strong first step in spurring support of similar studies in humans. If a treatment was developed and made available in hospitals, we can prevent sepsis and save many lives. We will certainly be on the lookout for follow up studies on this promising topic.


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Jennifer O'Donnell-Giles

Jenn Giles, R.D., C.S.S.D. is all about health and wellness. She has over 15 years’ experience, including a dual master’s degree in Nutrition and Exercise Physiology from Columbia University. She is a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a Board Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (CSSD). She supplements all of this with her spin instructor certification and USATriathlon Level I Coach Certification.

Jennifer is passionate about (actually, obsessed with) the sport of triathlon. She has been personally participating in triathlons since 2000 and running road races since 1992. She is a two-time Ironman finisher and has completed countless numerous marathons. She has been a member of Power Bar Team Elite since 2006 and competed as a member of the 2006 Aquaphor/Active.com Sponsored Athlete Team. She was ranked as USAT All American Honorable mention in 2006 and 2011. Jennifer does all of this along side of her husband, Patrick, who is an equally accomplished triathlete and runner. They try as hard as they can to do all of their training and racing together.

She will tell you, however, that her most important, most rewarding and most challenging job is as a mother of four. She knows first hand the challenges of maintaining optimal fitness, overall good health and achieving goals while raising a family - of which good nutrition is the cornerstone.

Most importantly, she knows how to motivate, inspire and challenge athletes based on their own abilities, strengths and everyday lifestyles. She believes there is an athlete in everyone - no matter what their abilities are – and if those abilities are manifold, then there is an even better athlete in there!

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