Monday, June 12, 2017

Kudos to Bicycling Magazine for pedaling so so so much overselling of the microbiome

Well ... this was not a fun read.

There is an article in Bicycling Magazine by Berne Broudy and it is pretty painful to read.  The article is ​Is Poop Doping the Next Big Thing? | Bicycling.

And the answer should be "We have no $(*#()$()@#)@#  idea if this is a good idea". But instead the answer was hype, overselling, and some bad microbiology reporting.

Here are some parts I am not a fan of.
The results showed she was populated by 96% gram-negative pathogens so toxic that if they got into her blood stream they could kill her. “I had no microbes to help me break down food, and I had picked up bugs in the lab where I was working because my system was so weak and susceptible.”
I doubt much off this.  I don't think the American Gut project can say anything about pathogens nor do I think they do say this.  My guess is this is a misinterpretation by the scientist here or more likely the reporter.  Also I doubt the American Gut data could be used to say anything about picking up bugs in the lab.
She observed that Prevotella, a microorganism she received in her own transplant, is common amongst elite racers. “The more a person trains, the more likely they are to have Prevotella,” says Petersen. “In my sampling, only half of cyclists have Prevotella, but top racers always have it... it’s not even in 10% of non-athletes.”
She is currently extracting Prevotella to understand what it is, and how to boost its abundance naturally or through a probiotic pill for athletes or aspiring athletes. What she already knows: Prevotella synthesize branch chain amino acids critical for muscle recovery.
This too has some dubious parts.  Especially going from a correlation (althetes vs. Prevotella) to "how to boost its abundance."  How about first showing that is has any effect?

Archeon are ancient microorganisms that have managed to survive for millions of years in hostile habitats like sulfur springs and deep in the ocean. They also live in the human digestive system, where they have specialized functions. Like Prevotella, Elite cyclists often have M. smithii, but it’s less common in amateur racers. That’s significant because M. smithii also appears to be a performance-enhancing microbe.
Well - no modern organisms are ancient, first of all.  And no Archaea have not managed to survive for millions of years - they live and die and their lineages evolve.  As far as I know, nobody has shown this organism is performance enhancing - I could not find anything in the literature about this.  It is a nice model.  But many models are nice and then are wrong.

And then there is this

As for actual poop doping…. fecal transplants are available, but not in the U.S. “If you have the money for the procedure, you can go to a clinic in the UK or the Bahamas,” says Petersen. “But you can’t choose your donor, and it’s a risky procedure. As with any transplant, your immune system could reject what you get. It’s not something you should take lightly. I did a lot of research, and I took a risk for sure.”
Umm - she is a single case study and there is no evidence I know of that her transplant let to any improvement in performance.  Dangerous claims right here.  Fecal transplants indeed have real risks.  Encouraging people to use them for doping is dangerous.

And thus Bicycling Magazine is a recipient of the Overselling the Microbiome Award.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to critique! All valid and excellent points :)


Irresponsible reporting on "poop doping" from the Washington Post

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