Many of you may be hearing more and more about ‘the microbiome’ in the matters relating to health and wellness. It is because our whole gestalt regarding microorganisms is rapidly changing. For a long time, bacteria were to be feared and killed. In the mid to late 20th century it was thought that this was the way to stop disease. For decades the concern was over pathogens, but actually they only make up a tiny proportion of our microbiome. With the advent of improved technology, we are beginning to look upon microorganisms in a new light.
It is now understood that our bodies are actually composed of more microbes than human cells. What is also being discovered is that approximately 98% of our genes are bacterial. This means that or genes will turn off and on, cause disease or health depending upon the health of our microbiome. Disease is not just caused by pathogenic bacteria as it was once thought, but now we must consider if it is possibly due to an absence of certain beneficial bacteria or just a lack of heathy strains in relation to unhealthy strains of bacteria. So, in order to maintain health, we may need to consider how to nourish our bugs instead of trying to kill them.
What exactly is the microbiome and where do they live?
They can be defined as the sum total of bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi in our bodies. This unique ecosystem is found all throughout the body. Literally there is almost no place that microorganisms do not exist within us. The richest source of microbe’s lives in our gut but can be found anywhere within our entire digestive tract from the mouth to the anus. And there are other microbiomes in our brain, nasal cavity, on our skin and in the reproductive area for both men and woman. And finally, every organ system has its own unique microbiome that is different in different parts of the body. We are just beginning to learn how our ecosystem truly works and it is mind blowing.
Here are just a few highlights of what current research has discovered and how it could help using our own health journeys.
- Antibiotics can create dysbiosis in the gut for up to 5 years. They also increase our risk of diabetes significantly. Dr. David Perlmutter feels that antibiotic exposure creates a lifelong change to your microbiome and that it is never the same again. Whether this is true or not it is becoming clear that anything we do that reduces our microbiome lowers our immunity and overall health.
- Some researchers are now discovering that the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of certain medications has do to with how our microbiome interacts with the drugs people take. Certain bacteria may be blocking the effects of certain drugs people are taking.
- While other research is showing that some medications such as NSAIDS or acid blocking drugs disrupt the gut bacteria and open us up to leaky gut. I am sure in the years to come this will be a highly researched area. This understanding will go a long way to personalizing medications for maximum benefit since everyone’s microbiome is unique to them.
- Exercise improves microbiome diversity by increasing beneficial bacteria which help prevent cancer, speed up metabolism and reduce inflammation.
- The effectiveness of chemotherapy agents or immune therapy depends on certain strains of bacteria being present in the gut.
- Certain kinds of bacteria in the gut determine if a person will tend to weight gain or have a slenderer body type.
- Bacteria can affect what we feel and even what we want to eat. Some pioneering psychiatrists are suggesting probiotics to address mental health. This approach though likely needs much more research before it becomes a common approach.
- Over 90% of people who have auto-immune have issues with the gut and microbiome. This knowledge is creating a whole new strategic approach to auto-immune health conditions within the field of integrative medicine and natural health.
- Probiotics effect affect gene expression, aid in digestion, stimulate the immune system, may not actually colonize the gut but have many beneficial effects in transit.
- If a person is a vegetarian the microbes will convert carbs into short chain fatty acids in order to get the necessary protein requirements for the body vs a meat-eating person.
- Bacteria communicates with other bacteria via light signaling
Where is this new research leading us?
When I step back and look at the big picture a few things become obvious. Anything we do affects our microbiome and changes in our microbiome affect every aspect of our health whether it be physical or psychological. For me this is exciting because it is another movement to wholism. Eventually it may be hard to ignore how important it is to address a person’s microbiome no matter what health condition a person is dealing with.
With the increased awareness of the microbiome new research is slowly beginning to change the way we think about health and disease. New approaches to immunity, pregnancy, mental health and reconditioning the gut are just starting to take root. New methods of testing are also being discovered. Viome and uBiome are just a few many companies attempting to help map out a person’s personal microbiome. However, these tests still are a bit limiting but are beginning to provide some useful information. One of the other effects of all the research is new supplements. The market has been flooded with all kinds of probiotics with some being more effective than others.
In my own practice I have been implementing various strategies using scientifically tested supplements to help restore the gut and immune system as well as applying other lifestyle factors that will positively influence our microbiome. If you are struggling with gut health then give me a call. We still have a long way to go but at least we are starting to get closer to the roots of our health issues.
Wishing you good health