SMOKINCHOICES (and other musings)

September 11, 2012

Microbiome – gut life

PEDIATRIC RESEARCH

Ahealthy gut is rife with germs

   DR. JOHN BARNARD

Babies arrive in the world with an intestinal tract that is totally free of germs. It is fine to start life this way, but continuing in this pristine state is definitely not in one’s best interest.
Immediately after birth, a newborn’s intestine and colon are introduced to bacteria and other microbes as a result of the rather sloppy circumstances of the birth process itself and the close contact with mother and other caregivers.    These early moments begin a dynamic process of microbe colonization over the first few years of life that scientists increasingly recognize is vital for health in decades ahead.

The population of intestinal microbes in the human body is called the microbiome, and its study has been dramatically advanced in recent years by powerful genetic technologies. Scarcely a week goes by without a major new advance in the field.    We have discovered that the bond we have with our microbiome is perhaps the most important, intimate and long lasting of all relationships we will ever experience.    Not exactly romance, but for optimal health we truly need our microbiome, and our microbiome simply cannot live without us.

Research has shown that we harbor in our bodies at least 150 times more microbial genes than human genes. Most are bacterial in origin and contribute to our nutrition, metabolism and immunity in enormously important ways.

The effects on our immune system are especially interesting. The intestine is the largest immune organ in the body, and its healthy development is critically dependent on complex interactions with the microbiome early in life.     In part, we know this from germ-free mice that are maintained in research settings. Their immune systems simply do not function properly but can be restored by giving a dose of healthy microbiome.

Taking this concept further, a recent study in the journal  Cell examined how treating germ-free mice with specific components of the microbiome affects the immune system. The investigators found that an unhealthy microbiome causes an unhealthy immune system with characteristics that favor autoimmunity.     While it is too early to say for certain that human autoimmune disorders such as diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease are caused by an unhealthy microbiome, evidence is starting to lean in this direction.  This seems especially true for Crohn’s, a type of inflammatory bowel disease.

What are the practical implications of microbiome research? To be sure, we need to keep this microscopic life partner healthy and happy.
Breastfeeding helps babies get started with a healthy microbiome. Later in life, we should eat a healthy diet with plenty of fiber. Finally, because we know that antibiotics dramatically disturb the micro-biome, we should all strive to avoid antibiotics whenever possible, and especially in children.

Might we be able to change our microbiome to treat disease? Given the complex ecology of the microbiome, taking a bacterial supplement such as a probiotic probably is overly simplistic.  *

As the science progresses, we likely will discover more effective tactics to heal a damaged microbiome.

Dr. John Barnard is president of the Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. john.barnard@  nationwidechildrens.org

(Jan’s Comment:

*Often times, physiological problems can be best served not so much by what we “ADD” to the issue as what we make sure we leave “OUT”.   And I believe this would be such a case.  Precisely,  being careful to omit many of the miracles of the modern age of agriculture and foods which have come along after the “paleolithic age” and  “neolithic age”  wherein farming came to be,  such as humanity’s love affair with sugar, and anything made from grains, especially white flour.    Remembering also, that man is the only species which continues to indulge in all things “DAIRY’ long after the weaning stage,  which is against “nature,”  or how we were designed to function naturally

Recent posts here at “smokinchoices” have shown how babies and toddlers fare better when NOT raised by overly fearful and fastidious parenting which disinfects as much of the environment as possible instead of allowing the child’s  immune system to blossom naturally, gradually incorporating it’s environment, bacteria by bacteria and germ into it’s inner eco-system – – including the presence of pets.  They grow happily with less infections; consequently, less anti-biotics.  

A child breastfed and gradually introduced to real (hopefully organic) finger-food in ever broadening circles is happy and healthy.  My own son used to sit in a deli hi-chair munching on dill pickles, much to the amazement of others watching him.   He never saw a cookie or chip until he started to venture down the street to his play-mates house.  Only then started the battle and overly much discussion.  Poor Jeff.  Ah, good memories.  My son was healthy. . . . had a few accidents and sports injuries, but grew straight and fine.  Just sayin’ .   .   .   Jan)

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