There were some pretty good reactions to the last post on animals and health care. But I wanted to do a slightly more serious follow up now on something I came across in the aftermath.
It’s a broad overview of the microbial roots of inflammatory bowel disease in cats and dogs. Fascinating, I know. But I wanted to zero in on one bit of the study that I found pretty interesting:
Similarly to humans, a microbial dysbiosis has been identified in feline and canine IBD. Commonly observed microbial changes are increased Proteobacteria (i.e., Escherichia coli) with concurrent decreases in Firmicutes, especially a reduced diversity in Clostridium clusters XIVa and IV (i.e.,Lachnospiraceae, Ruminococcaceae, Faecalibacterium spp.). This would indicate that these bacterial groups, important short-chain fatty acid producers, may play an important role in promoting intestinal health.
In case you don’t know by now, that’s the microbiota pattern we’ve sort of been obsessing about. We see it everywhere. Call it the “golden ratio” of the microbiome and disease. So there’s that again!
But there’s also another thing we’ve been going on about lately, and that’s the power derived from being able to take two factors that are very different (like, say, plant fiber consumption and smoking) which are correlated to something similar (heart disease) in order to isolate a mechanism of action. In other words, a cause.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
Imagine I came to you and told you that both cigarette smoking and cigar smoking contribute to heart disease, and they do so because they both make your teeth yellow. You’d call me an idiot. Cigar smoking and cigarette smoking are very similar things, and have all sorts of similar effects because of that. So the probability of teeth yellowing being the explanation for their causing heart disease is quite low.
But what if both cigarette smoking and a diet low in plant fiber both made your teeth yellow? You’d probably be more willing to hear me out.
The more different the factors are, the more probable it is that the shared effect you’ve isolated is the cause you are looking for.
What are the chances that eating plant fiber and quitting smoking (or the inverse), very different actions which are both factors correlated to heart disease, are going to have the exact same (and previously unknown) effect in the human body, but that effect has nothing to do with the heart disease correlation? And given that effect (the microbial shift) has been already implicated not only in disease, but in metabolic disease — a class to which heart disease belongs — well haven’t we done something kind of notable?
I make this point because this study sort of does something similar. In this case, we find the “golden ratio” again, but in a completely different species of animal. That cats and dogs are so completely not human, yet experience disease as a result of this microbial pattern, is extremely corroborating information. It’s a pattern detected in human disease. It’s a pattern detected in human actions that are not only related to general healthfulness, but strongly correlated to those very diseases. And now we detect that pattern in diseases of a completely different species of animal. What are the chances that this information belongs in the file drawer labeled: Irrelevant?
Not sure? Let’s play the game again.
Let’s say I showed you a human being who ate a tennis ball and as a result could do highly complex physics equations without ever having studied physics. In order to convince you that this could be duplicated in ANY other human being, what would be more convincing to you: showing you the trick in another human being, or showing you a cat eating a tennis ball and then spouting off Einstein’s theory of relativity?
I just wanted to make one other point, and this goes back to the point I made in the original post. Perhaps this is a small thing, and maybe only someone like me who consumes a lot of this kind of research would notice, but: the study quotation above is by far the clearest statement I have yet to see of the dysbiosis pattern that we have identified on this blog. And it’s in a study about dogs and cats. At this rate, we truly are going to solve chronic disease in our pets before we do in ourselves.