By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder

A Visit to the ICU May Wreak Havoc On Your Gut Microbiome. Be Proactive

Hospitals are usually where we go to get well. But did you know they may also be breeding grounds for germs?

Infections that are caused by microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and some parasites, particularly drug-resistant ones known as superbugs, are a major threat to health worldwide. Their existence in hospitals leads to increasing mortality, patient suffering and rising healthcare costs,” according to one recent report.

So now we know that Hospital bugs (bad bugs or pathogens) can be a real threat to our health. What we may have not considered is that hospitals can be very bad for the good bugs in our guts! 

A recent study found that a stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) can wreak havoc on our gut microbiome. Since more than 5 million patients are admitted annually to U.S. ICUs for intensive or invasive monitoring, this study is particularly relevant to many of us.

“A number of factors are likely to reduce the gut microbial diversity of ICU patients, putting them at greater risk of infection—these include assisted ventilation, enteric feeding [a feeding tube] and certain medications,” according to one report discussing the study.

Researchers of the study looked at how the diversity and makeup of the gut microbiome differed among patients who spent time in the ICU.

The ICU patients involved in the study were admitted to the ICU for a variety of reasons, and the results of the research showed that two-thirds of the patients exhibited “a marked reduction in microbial diversity at some stage during their stay.”

A professor who led the research said, "The gut microbiome performs many important and diverse roles and many of these roles can be lost if microbial diversity is lost. This is likely to impact on nutrition, gut motility and inflammation in the bowel."

To give you more details on the study, there were 24 patients (wide age range of 25 to 85 years). Reasons for being admitted to the ICU included trauma, heart attack and cancer. The researchers found that some long-stay ICU patients developed a gut microbiome that became overpowered by bacteria that had the potential to become pathogenic.

"It was shocking to see how quickly and how often this diverse community can collapse down to stark monolithic domination by a single pathogen among critically ill patients," said the professor who led the research.

The bacteria found in patients that was particularly concerning was Enterococcus faecium. The researchers also detected evidence which showed that there may have been a spread of a single strain of the bacteria between three patients.

“E. faecium can cause severe infections, particularly at sites where medical devices—such as intravenous cannulas—have been used,” according to the report.

“If these bacteria get into the bloodstream, they can cause fatal infection.”

On top of this, many species of this particular type of bacteria are resistant to antibiotics. And let’s not forget, long term use of antibiotics may not be good for the gut microbiome either. The researchers found that the antibiotic called meropenem really had a negative impact on the gut microbiome of ICU patients.

Now, all this is especially concerning when you think about how important good balance in the population of gut bacteria is for recovery from illness or injury.

Remember, you want a good balance of bacteria diversity in your gut!

(I’ve previously gone into great detail about the gut microbiome. This ecosystem of trillions (about 100 trillion to be exact) of bacteria in our intestines is so critical to our overall health, many medical experts say that good health begins in the gut. If you do not have a diverse, healthy balance of these gut bugs, you may have a weaker immune system and be at an increased risk of developing serious health issues such as depression).

So how can we be proactive?

According to the report, the researchers advise that patients be given medications that absorb excess antibiotics in the guts of people. This way, they can reduce the amount of damage antibiotics may do to the gut. Believe it or not, one of the suggested medications is a charcoal drug.

The other option medical professionals are considering is a procedure called fecal microbiota transplantation. There is really not a glamorous way to describe it. It is basically when a sick person takes “healthy poop” from a healthy person (a person with a good gut microbiome).

“Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) is when stool from a healthy donor is made into a liquid mixture and transferred into the colon of a different person to try to reintroduce or boost helpful organisms.”

I know it sounds gross, but it may save lives.

Don’t underestimate what you can personally do for your gut.

Most of us don’t have much of a warning when we have to stay in the ICU. Health issues are often unexpected, which is why it is so important to be proactive on a daily basis in making sure that we are our healthiest selves.

You always want to keep your gut in check. And you can do this by following a healthy diet and avoiding artificial sweeteners. You also want to make sure you are getting plenty of probiotics and prebiotics in your diet. For tips and specific foods for maintaining gut health, click here.

You might also want to consider taking a pH GI Effects test. This test not only provides insight into the bacteria, or gut flora, of your digestive system, but identifies parasites, assesses levels of digestive and absorptive functions, as well as potential issues with gut inflammation and immunology. 

If the test reveals your gut needs some TLC, a competent healthcare professional can help you with getting your gut in check.


Enjoy your healthy life!


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of healthcare and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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