What comes to your mind when bacteria are mentioned? For most people, bacteria and microbes suggest disease. However, there are billions of very important bacteria that literally share the human body and help it function. These microorganisms are collectively known as the microbiome.
Microbes are found living in various parts of the human body. Although there has been limited research on the microbiome, scientists have begun to appreciate its role in human health. According to the United States National Library of medicine, there are more than 1 trillion microbes living in the body, with the largest colonies being harboured in the gastrointestinal tract. These microbes are associated with regulation of digestion, protection from disease-causing organisms, and the development of a strong immune response.
Why the Human Microbiome Is So Important
The microbiome is linked to a person’s genetic footprint and hence plays a role in the determination of our unique DNA, predisposition to pathogens, hereditary traits, body type, and much more. In fact, up to 90% of all human maladies are linked to the health of the gut and the overall condition of our microbiome.
- Obesity: A healthy microbiome helps to reduce accumulation of fat and inflammation. An alteration of gut microbiome triggers metabolic changes that can lead to obesity. The four species of bacteria involved are Candidatus arthromitus, Allobacullum, Lactobacillus, and Rikenelleceae.
- Autism: Studies have revealed that the microbiome present in autistic children differs vastly from that of their healthy counterparts. In particular, autistic children lack highly beneficial bacteria like Bifidobacterium, which is known for reinforcing the immune system. According to the study, if a person has a leaky gut, some compounds produced by gut bacteria can find their way out of the intestines. These compounds proceed to alter the normal functioning of the brain, leading to characteristics associated with autism, particularly repetitive behaviour.
- Immune Response: Medical practitioners contend that improper regulation of immunologic mechanisms causes most non-infectious conditions such as cancer, allergies, and even autoimmunity. A different study suggests that intestinal bacteria can influence inflammatory immune reactions that start in the gut. These responses and are then transmitted to the brain and other body organs, effectively triggering immunologic dysregulation. Some research suggests autoimmune problems could be at the root cause of male pattern hair loss, where our own hormone, DHT, actually starts attacking the hair follicles.
- Diabetes: According to the American Diabetes Association, type 2 diabetes is usually accompanied by a notable change in gut bacteria. Further research has also found that certain microbes may help prevent type 1 diabetes. The studies highlight the role played by the microbiome in diabetes.
It is clear that microbes are good for the human body, but only in their natural, unmodified state. It is actually alterations to the natural microbiome composition that lead to poor health. A person’s lifestyle has a major bearing on their microbiome. It is therefore no coincidence that cases of the above-mentioned conditions are consistently on the rise, as modern life and many of the lifestyle choices we make in it all negatively impact our microbiome.
Things That Damage the Human Microbiome
1. Cesarean Section
Few people know this, but our first dose of good bacteria comes from our mothers during birth. As an infant slides through the birth canal, the bacteria infiltrate the body through the mouth, eyes, nose, and lips. The bacteria assemble in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts, forming colonies that immediately begin to multiply. A good number of mothers are increasingly depriving their babies of this initial inoculation by embracing the cesarean section. In fact, the United States Centres for Disease Control reported that in 2015, an astonishing 32.2% of all deliveries took the form of cesarean sections.
A 2016 study gives evidence that suggests long term use of antibiotics can cause collateral damage to our microbiome. Although antibiotics can be lifesavers, their use is currently at an all-time high. In fact, research carried out over a 10 year period from 2000 to 2010 revealed that although antibiotic use is continually declining, as many as 2.27 antibiotics per person-year were prescribed to babies less than 24 months old. Overuse of antibiotics is associated with massive disruption of the microbiome, thereby impacting the immune system, the capacity to process food, and our ability to resist infections. For this reason, prudent use of antibiotics is important.
3. Over-the-Counter Medications
Medications sold over the counter such as painkillers, mouthwashes, antacids, and laxatives can destroy the microbiome, promote intestinal bleeding, and make the gut more permeable. As a result, larger proteins, bacteria, and a host of toxic substances can find their way into the bloodstream, leading to food allergies, overworking of the immune system, and widespread distribution of toxic elements throughout the body. According to a press release courtesy of the U.S.A Centers for Disease Control, there is evidence that 1 in 3 prescribed antibiotics are usually unnecessary. It is therefore wise to discuss the use of such medications with a doctor and also avoid taking them for longer than necessary.
Diet plays an important role in maintaining a good balance of good bacteria in the gut and other parts of the body. A major source of good bacteria is milk. However, when milk is sterilized by heating it to over 160 degrees, some bacteria are destroyed or their levels significantly reduced. In addition, artificial food colouring compounds have been found to have antibacterial and antifungal properties. In the attempt to make food products more presentable, we run the risk of altering the microflora in our bodies. Furthermore, artificial fats found in baked foods like cakes, biscuits, pizza, and crackers can lead to permeable cell walls. For the cell walls to become permeable, it means that the microbial organisms lining the surface have to be destroyed.
4. Chlorinated Drinking Water
It is almost impossible to maintain an ideal concentration of microbiome in the body, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract, if we frequently consume chlorinated water. Chlorine automatically kills both good and bad bacteria.
Other things that can damage the microbiome include:
- Pesticides and herbicides
- Surgeries and chemotherapy
- Heavy exposure to pollutants like mercury
- Antibacterial soaps and shampoos
- Anti-cholesterol drugs
From the above information, it is clearly evident that altering the microbiome in our bodies can bring about serious long term health issues. It is therefore imperative to retain normal microbiome levels by regulating the usage of antibiotics, food colours, agricultural chemicals, chlorine, and the other items that we have mentioned. It is also very important to restore microbiome levels by:
- Eating plenty of fermented foods like fermented milk, soy, and vegetables
- Taking a probiotic supplement
- Exposure to outdoor bacteria through working on your garden and keeping the windows open. Research shows that increasing the natural airflow can blow healthy microbes your way.