Written by Robert Reed, The A Team Foundation

Growing evidence reveals that the incidence of kidney stones is increasing steadily throughout the developed world. We all know someone who has suffered this painful infliction, it’s not nice.  

A recently launched scientific paper by Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project and his collective of international colleagues, indicates that the loss of a specific bacteria strain from our internal micro-biome is behind this recent rise. It is also highly suggestive that the prevalence of kidney stones can be attributed to our sterilised, modern lifestyle and the use of medicines such as antibiotics.

The bacteria Oxalobacter formigenes lives in our colon and it is externally acquired through diet and our environment between the ages of 1 and 2. It is naturally incorporated into our body at a very young age from the outside world through what we eat, what we touch, and what we smell.

Oxalobacter formigenes

The study of the bacteria O. formigenes is a growing area of interest. It is truly unique, it has the natural ability to consume oxalate. In fact, it solely ingests oxalate for energy. Oxalate is a useless and unfortunate by-product of our metabolism. If there are complications in the excretion of this by-product, it clusters and eventually forms calcium-oxalate urinary stones (aka kidney stones).

Scientific understanding is that the presence of O. formigenes in the colon, breaks down the calcium oxalate before they become a problem and therefore, they can be excreted more easily. The current trend is that incidences of kidney stones is rising while simultaneously the prevalence of O. formigenes falling.

Jeff Leach and Co., directs attention to how modern medicine can be viewed as a culprit;

“O. formigenes is known to be susceptible to many commonly prescribed antibiotics. In a previous study, antibiotic treatment resulted in lasting suppression of O. formigenes”.

Amerindians, The Hadza, and America

A 4x4 in Tanzania

In their paper, Comparative prevalence of Oxalobacter formigenes in three human populations [Nature Scientific Reports], the international collective studied the prevalence of O. formigenes between three populations of adults and infants.

Two populations live in remote locations away from westernised civilisation; the Amerindians of the Yanomami-Sanema and Yekwana ethnic groups in Venezuela and the Hadza in Tanzania. They have had only very recent exposure to Western medicine, providing a rare window on the pre-industrial intestinal microbiome of humans. These two groups were compared with a community in the USA.

The results show that, O. formigenes was detected in 60–80% of adult subjects in Venezuela and Tanzania, higher than what has been found in adults from USA in this and all prior studies. Among the US participants, only 38% detected O. formigenes.

O. formigenes in Infants

To our knowledge, the study by Jeff Leach & Co. is the first in 20 years to examine O. formigenes during its colonisation within the formative years of the microbiome of children. It is also the only study that has examined a cohort of mothers and children longitudinally from birth through the first years of life.

A comparison of O. formigenes colonisation in children from the US with that in tribal populations from Africa and South America showed that the US children had the lowest prevalence (19%) compared with Amerindians (68%) and with Hadza (82%).

What is very interesting, is that colonisation occurs in stages and isn’t necessarily passed down by the mother. In the USA, there was no evidence of colonisation in the children until 12 months of age, but prevalence reached around 90% by age 2.  Whereas O. formigenes was detected in some of the youngest subjects sampled in the Hadza and Amerindian populations: the earliest at 3 months of age and 9 months respectively. Nearly all children appeared to be colonised by age 8.

Environmental Not Maternal

Jeff Leach with a Hadza child, Tanzania.

Jeff Leach with a Hadza child, Tanzania.

Due to these correlations, Jeff & Co.’s leading conclusion is that the acquisition of O. formigenes comes from outside ourselves; our natural exchanges of bacteria with the environment (including our diet). Or alternatively, the child acquires a very small population from birth, for it to only bloom later in the child’s development as the advancement of diet, maturation of the micro-biome, and the acquisition of commensal species required for O. formigenes colonisation occurs.

This simply means that if we sterilise or limit our external environment and the food we eat, we remove good bacteria as well as the bad. Good bacteria that we physically require to thrive and survive. The fact that our bodies require a physical external relationship with something other than ourselves, strengthens the concept that all things are connected. Our actions effect the whole, ‘we are a part of all that we have met’.

As O. formigenes disappears in the context of socioeconomic advances and medical treatments, it continues to potentially contribute to the rise of global incidences of kidney stones. A recent report of the association of kidney stones with prior antibiotic treatments, is also consistent with that hypothesis. O. formigenes is a part of the ancestral human gut microbiota. Changes in our environment, diet or antibiotic use may significantly contribute to the loss of this commensal organism and consequently effect the micro-biome ecosystem beyond what is known by modern science.

The paper can be downloaded with all accompanying references via: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-36670-z



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