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microbes1The study of bacteria has interested doctors and researchers for centuries. However, that interest was primarily focused on “bad” bacteria—pathogens that make us sick and cause disease. Over the last 20 years, there has been a tremendous increase in the study of “good” bacteria and its effect on our guts.

In 1990, approximately 125 studies were published on the topic of microbiome (a term used to reference the bacteria, viruses, and archaea that live on us and in us). In 2009, studies of microbiome numbered over 500. Why all this interest now? Hippocrates, considered to be the father of western (modern) medicine, said in 400 B.C that “death sits in the bowels.” We’ve long recognized the importance of the intestines in human health. But now we have state-of-the-art technology that allows us to actually study gastrointestinal microbiota.

Bacterial cells outnumber human cells 10-1. They colonize every surface of the body exposed to the external environment. They are on our skin, reproductive organs/urinary system, respiratory system, and gastrointestinal tract (GIT). The most colonized of the four is the GIT—your colon alone contains over 70% of all the bacteria in your body.

Where Do They Come From?

The only time you were “bacteria-free” was when you were in the womb. Bacterial colonization begins at childbirth. When a baby travels through the birth canal, it is exposed to microbes (bacteria) present in mom’s gut and vagina. If mom chooses to breastfeed, her milk provides another healthy dose of microbes. Both of those exposures are extremely protective to the child, as well as supportive of the establishment of a healthy immune system. Last, but not least, is exposure to microbes from the child’s environment; such as household dirt and bacteria from other family members, friends, and/or pets. It also includes exposure to bacteria from outside sources. By the time a child turns three, his or her microbiome is pretty well established.

Why Should We Care?

Establishing a healthy microbiome is important because:
• It supports your immune system,
• It helps protect you from disease,
• It helps detoxify your body,
• It affects how much you weigh.

An unbalanced microbiome may:
• Increase risk for inflammation
• Increase risk for chronic disease
• Increase risk for obesity, asthma, and allergies

How Can You Protect–and Increase–Your Gut Bugs?

1. Phase out the antibacterial products. Your home is not a surgical center. Continue to hand wash frequently to reduce risk for illness, but use regular soap and water (not antibacterial products). Family members don’t need to be wet-wiped every day.

2. Go outside. Open the windows of your house or office whenever possible. Fresh air and sunlight are nature’s natural antibiotics. They will protect you far more than keeping your house hermetically sealed and sanitized.

3. Eat less of the foods that kill off healthy bacteria. They include, but are not limited to, processed foods, sugar, saturated fat, and meat products that come from animals fed antibiotics.

4. Use antibiotics as little as possible. Antibiotics are great for killing bad bacteria, such as strep. However, when you use an antibiotic, you also kill off a lot of good bacteria in your gut. If an antibiotic is absolutely necessary, use it. Otherwise, let the illness (such as cold or flu) run its course.

5. Eat more probiotics. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, pickles, sourdough bread, and kimchi are some examples.

6. Eat more plant foods! Plant foods contain fiber, which gives your gut bacteria something to chew on, break down, digest and extract nutrients from (fermentation). Fermentation produces by-products such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA provide energy to your intestinal cells and help keep the lining of your colon healthy.

Growing a Body of Knowledge

Remember Pig Pen from the Charley Brown comic series? How about the John Travolta movie “The Boy in the Plastic Bubble?” Establishing a healthy “microbiome medium” lies somewhere between living in perpetual dust clouds and a germ-free bubble. In the next installment of Microbiome: the Mystery and Magic of Your Gut Bugs, we will look at the connection between obesity and your microbiome.

Written by:
Donna Green, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, Erie Basin EERA, green.308@osu.edu
Reviewed by: Liz Smith, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator, Ohio State University Extension

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2792171/

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microbes2Many of us learned about cells in high school biology class. We learned that bodies are made up of different kinds of cells—skin, muscle, blood, etc. But most of us did not learn about the trillions of non-human, microbial cells.

Those cells, or “microbiome,” are important for maintaining human health; if things go wrong with our microbes it can contribute to our risk for disease. But what is the microbial make-up of a healthy human being? What types of microbes are present, and what are they doing?

Microbe communities can be very different from one person to another. There is even a difference from one location to another on the same individual. Our microbial genomes record what we have eaten, where we have lived, and who we have been in contact with. We literally have microbial “ecosystems” in and on different parts of our bodies that differ drastically from one to another and supply a wide range of functions.

The scientific study of microbiology grew out of society’s desire to control pathogens and infectious diseases. Doctors always thought microbes were bad things to be gotten rid of, such as measles or strep throat. But most microbes do NOT make us sick. We are starting to recognize that microbes also keep us healthy, unless they become unbalanced. “Unbalance” can occur because of antibiotic usage, an unhealthy diet, or other variable. The end result may be an increased risk for chronic disease or health conditions such as:

• Acne
• Asthma
• Autism
• Cancer
• Autoimmune disease
• Diabetes
• Inflammatory bowel diseases
• Obesity

The study of microbiome is still in its infancy, but major strides have been made since the inception of the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) in 2005. “Knowing which microbes live in various ecological niches in healthy people allows us to better investigate what goes awry in diseases that are thought to have a microbial link,” such as Crohn’s disease, ulcers and obesity, said George Weinstock of Washington University in St. Louis, one of the project’s principal investigators.

For example, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine found fewer types of vaginal microbes in pregnant women (as opposed to non-pregnant women). The take-away? A pregnant, female body naturally reduces the diversity of her microbial species in the weeks leading up to birth so that the newborn — who developed in a sterile womb — can be exposed to the proper intestinal and vaginal bacteria when it goes through the birth canal. Exposure to mother’s bacteria is the signal to the infant’s immune system to start. A baby born by C-section does not get the same exposure to mom’s microbiome, and because of this difference, may be more likely to develop allergies and asthma.

Over the next year, we will examine the influence of “gut bugs” on nutrition, health, and behavior. Hopefully you will learn a lot more about your personal microbes and how food choice affects microbial levels and your risk for chronic disease.

Written by: Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, green.308@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Bridgette Kidd, Healthy People Program Specialist, Ohio State University Extension, kidd.149@osu.edu

Sources:
http://biofrontiers.colorado.edu/news/five-things-about-the-microbiome

http://genome.wustl.edu/projects/detail/human-microbiome-project/

http://medicine.umich.edu/medschool/research/research-strengths/host-microbiome-initiative

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