Researchers from Rockefeller University wanted to see if the human microbiome (or, our gut) could help in the fight against the growth of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (responsible for COVID-19). The answer? Likely!

We natural-minded mamas know that gut health is pivotal to our overall health. Microorganisms we keep on our skin and in our gut coexist and create their own microbiome. Sometimes, those microbiomes are overrun with unhealthy bacteria and virus; other times, when they're in good shape, they are thriving colonies full of beneficial bacteria and probiotics.

When the pandemic hit, a group of researchers at Rockefeller University had already been looking at the effect on a body's host cells from human-associated bacteria. They then turned their research to specifically target how gut health could make a difference in the fight against SARS-CoV-2.

First author of a study published in mSphere Dr. Frank Piscotta and principal author Dr. Sean Brady worked with a team of chemists, biophysicists and virologists and initially expected, "somewhere between zero and a few [results]".

They looked at a diverse group that represented over 50 types of bacteria found in human microbiomes. They isolated compounds and tested the antiviral properties in lab cultures.

They found 10 bacteria that reduced viral infection by SARS-CoV-2 by 10% and then they scaled down more to find bacteria whose metabolites (dietary components) inhibited viral growth in culture by more than 90%.

Those three they found were:
  • a pyrazine called 2,5-bis(3-indolylmethyl)pyrazine (BIP)
  • a 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HTR) receptor agonist tryptamine
  • a compound named N6-(Δ2-isopentenyl) adenosine (IPA)
In addition to SARS-CoV-2, the team tested the metabolites for activity against other RNA viruses, which included yellow fever and human parainfluenza 3. They found that IPA had the broadest antiviral qualities, tryptamine preferred to inhibit coronaviruses and BIP was similar, though more limited in spectrum when compared to IPA.

The research team found that the three active metaboites had similarities to three syntehtic compounds that science has observed to have antiviral properties--FDA-approved agents that have also undergone testing in trials or observational studies against COVID-19.

They found:

  • IPA is structurally similar to remdesivir, a medication that doctors use to treat some severe COVID-19 infections.
  • Tryptamine is similar to serotonin. The selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor fluvoxamine is a medication that doctors typically use to treat OCD, but has also been recommended as part of COVID-19 protocol by America's Frontline Doctors.
  • BIP is similar in the structure of favipiravir. This is oral antiviral medication researchers are looking at as a treatment for for mild COVID-19 disease, whereas remdesivir would be for moderate disease.
The team found that tryptamine's ability to inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 growth was similar to clinical studies in which people taking fluvoxamine had improved outcomes.

Dr. Brady suggested that science is inspired by nature, and has been so when it comes to developing drugs for a while. He also suggested that there are simply limited number of chemical combinations that inhibit viruses, whether synthetic or natural.

This may explain why people respond so differently to the invasion of COVID-19. Some microbiomes are more capable and flourishing in those bacteria which would fight against and force adaption into the gut ecosystem. Knowing which metabolites make a difference could help create chemical mimics that could treat COVID-19.

Dr. Brady cautioned to not oversimplify the results and claim that gut health was the key to defeating COVID-19. The findings warrant additional research to look at the roles of metabolites as well as other human microbiome aspects.

But clearly, case after case is made for ensuring gut health is in good condition when it comes to overall health, and this could just be one more piece to that human gut puzzle we look at to see how it can protect us from the inside out.

Diets rich in fiber and whole grains can help increase concentrations of IPA, while foods that produce serotonin naturally like kefir and pineapple can also increase gut health. Keeping varied quantities and strains of probiotics in your gut continues to be the focus of the healthiest microbiomes.