Trusting Our Guts

gut_microbes_wellness_warrior.jpgWe are just beginning to understand how the microbes in our digestive system affect the overall health of our bodies. The research holds a lot of potential to move modern medicine forward dramatically--and more naturally than pharmaceuticals. Jane Brody of The New York Times writes this week on Dr. Martin Blaser’s latest book, Missing Microbes(which was featured last week on the Diane Rehm Show) in which he discusses the latest research on how important the balances and symbiotic relationships in our body can be.

Obesity, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, allergies, and other autoimmune diseases all have associations with gut bacteria, and many of these may be catalyzed by early childhood gut microbe changes due to cesarean sections and overuse of antibiotics. Brody writes:

The damaging effect of antibiotics on microbial diversity starts early, Dr. Blaser said. The average American child is given nearly three courses of antibiotics in the first two years of life, and eight more during the next eight years. Even a short course of antibiotics like the widely prescribed Z-pack (azithromycin, taken for five days), can result in long-term shifts in the body’s microbial environment.

But antibiotics are not the only way the balance within us can be disrupted. Cesarean deliveries, which have soared in recent decades, encourage the growth of microbes from the mother’s skin, instead of from the birth canal, in the baby’s gut, Dr. Blaser said in an interview.

And new research that points to using the gut microbe ecosystem to solve some of our health problems emerges constantly. For instance, researchers from the University of Florida recently discovered that there may be links between gut bacteria and the autoimmune disease Type 1 Diabetes (not to be confused with Type II Diabetes). There’s also plenty of work being done to understand how we can promote a healthy ‘microbiome’ of good bacteria in our guts. For instance, recent research showed that some bacterial colonies can reach “tipping points” that will change the whole balance of the digestive system. Gretchen Reynolds of The New York Times also recently wrote about the positive influence that exercise may have over our microbial ecosystem make up.

The moral of the story? We need to trust our guts. They and the microbes inside them hold a lot of power over our bodies and our health.

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