It is the dawn of the era of the microbial ally, an age I’ve been trying to usher to the forefront since 2006. No longer are people reacting to the thought of their own personal bacteria with aversion, rather, researchers and laymen alike are realizing those critters can be our friends—and the key to good health.
In the nearly ten years that I’ve been relating the power of our internal bacteria, researchers continue to build a dynamic body of literature on the subject. The results are in (and keep coming): our intestinal microbes have been linked to our physical health, mental health, mood, and human development. They’re a force to be reckoned with—and a formidable ally in the battle against disease.
Imagine ahead: the year is 2030 and your routine health screening includes a stool specimen alongside the standard blood chemistry. The RN calls with the results and all your dietary modifications for preventative health are based on the predominant strains in your gut.
The Latest and Greatest:
Of course, there are many factors that work together to determine our health and wellbeing, but it isn’t a stretch to say our intestinal bacteria do play a part. New knowledge regarding our intestinal flora is published every day; highlights include:
Genes: A different kind of inheritance—scientists examining the fecal samples of 416 pairs of twins found that the strains that you host can be partially determined by your genes. Identical twins had microbiomes that were more similar than those of fraternal sets. The “most inheritable” strain: Christensenellaceae—a strain that can be found in the guts of lean individuals. This suggests that influencing your microbiome is just one way genes can play a hand in obesity.
Diversity: Cheese rinds are a picture of diversity—just a crumb contains 10 billion microbial cells (a mixture of bacteria and fungi that makes cheese, well, deliciously cheesy). It turns out these microbial communities vary based on cheese type rather than by region. Where you’re made is less of a factor than how; at least if you’re a good brie.
Personalization: Bacteria’s don’t just create cheese; they’re a potential source for medication as well. Scientists used a computer program to sort out potentially useful strains on the human body, and found thousands of candidate compounds. Your next antibiotic prescription could be provided by strains found in your gut!
Armageddon: If you want to get philosophical, you can wonder what the world would be like without our personal “flora”. While human digestion would be impaired in many ways, it could still function. The same couldn’t be said for cows, or crops in need of nitrogen-rich soil and waste would abound as nothing would decompose. Researchers concluded: “we predict complete societal collapse only within a year or so, linked to catastrophic failure of the food supply chain”. Microbes may be small, but they are fierce—and important.
Then and Now: Knowledge is Power
Long ago, Hippocrates noted that “all disease begins in the gut”; it’s a tenant my research and nutritional advice has agreed with and supported. How did a philosopher that lived so long ago know what he was talking about? Perhaps it was a “gut feeling”.
Regardless, modern research has not only vindicated his position, but taken it a step further. It’s not just drugs that can be created with the aid of microbial strains, but cures for diseases like arthritis and diabetes. The ecosystem that lives in our gut is “pervasive and profound in its connection to human health”, states Peter DiLaura the CEO for a company called Second Genome that seeks sequence gut genes and determine their potential applications.
Rather than peddling the strains themselves (something the FDA tends to frown upon) they’d isolate the bug’s “bioactives”—the bacteria’s secreted proteins and metabolites that hold sway over us. Bioactives could be replicated with precision and consistency like any other pharmaceutical, and could be held in the gut rather than transported into the bloodstream.
Dreamers like DiLaura hope to prove that the gut isn’t just a source of disease, but of tangible, fact-based, medically derived solutions to some of the world’s biggest killers.
Our microbiomes hold a great deal of potential power over our health and the world at large. A casual search of a medical search engine and you’ll find thousands of articles; close to a hundred have been published within Pubmed’s database in the last two weeks of the new year! Many of them focus on our gut’s link to immunity and infections.
In light of the new year, you may want to get healthier—the best way to do this is by making your digestive health a top priority.
This is where I can help: the easiest way to foster the bacteria you want is by fueling them (via fueling yourself!). I highlight the most egregious foods (that can wreak havoc on your gut) in my articles regarding the “foul four” foods that are best avoided, and in my well researched treatise against artificial sugar.
For a good way to detox and fuel “good bugs” I would suggest incorporating a digestive detox to begin feeding your microbiome with top foods for gut health, combined with herbal compounds known to suppress unfavorable bacteria.
When looking ahead to the new year, just remember: you are what you eat! And who doesn’t want to become a “new” version of themselves through food? That’s one resolution that will be delicious to keep.