Holistic and allopathic medicine researchers and professionals are emphasising the importance of looking after our microbiome as more and more research shows how vital this part of our physiology is for mental and physical health as well as longevity. Consider these three developments that are only a few decades in coming to light as fields of science transforming modern views of health and treatment:
- Many experts are claiming microbiota are the basis of every disease and health solution there is.
- Just as profoundly, is that for the first time, we are only just arriving at the initial stages of truly personalised diagnosis and treatments through scientific analysis of an individuals microbiome, genome and micro-RNA signature – millions of pieces of information so huge that only artificial intelligence can analyse the data to come up with a unique set of issues, recommended actions and diet. Considering there is no single food or diet perfect for everyone and that we are getting down to a holistic causal factor of disease, this is revolutionary.
- New understanding coming to light embraces the latest in health science and the principles of traditional healing and transformational systems.
- The science of microbiome and health is revealing what traditional medicine and cultures have known through the ages – that there is an intimate exchange of information and interdependence between our mind, body and gut, and just as intimately between our body, food and every aspect of our environment. The key to this is bio-chemical messaging via microorganisms, some even regulating body functions and gene expression.
Thus the power is coming back into our own hands to determine our health and wellbeing.
Microbiome is the trillions of microorganisms in our bodies of thousands of different species . They actually out-number and have more overall mass than the total cells of our body. This remarkable fact is the reason why many health and research models are beginning to view humans physiologically as ‘holobionts’ (an aggregation of various species of organisms and their collective genomes – total DNA information – working together as a symbiotic ecology).
Our microbiome include bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. In a healthy body they co-exist in a way that promotes health (symbiotically) overall. When the system is unhealthy or imbalanced by infections, certain diets, excessive or prolonged physical and psychological stress, overuse of antibiotics and some other medications, over exposure to anti-bacterial and anti-fungal products, insufficient or disruptive environmental exposure, imbalance in microbiota can result in insufficient symbiotic activity or excessive and disruptive pathogenic activity. This is called dysbiosis.
Dr. Mark Hyman (Director at Cleleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine) says that “there are more molecules in your blood from gut microbiome than your own human [cell derived] molecules” and the same goes for metabolites in the blood.
We have 22,000 functional genes, however an earth worm or a rice plant have double that amount of functional genes. Kiran Krishnan, a Research Biologist addresses how we conduct all of the functions we do in our complex systems. Microbiome in our system have about 3.3 million functional genes, about 150 times more bacterial and viral DNA than our human cells, and it is looking like 90% of our metabolic functioning is coded by our bacterial and viral DNA.
We get our microbiome initially from our mother while developing as a fetus and baby in the womb, then important added exposure to microbiome in the birth canal and breast feeding as an infant. Many practitioners now swab caesarian babies these days with vaginal mucus to compensate. The microbiome composition is entirely dependent on our mother until after breast feeding where diet and environmental exposure becomes the key source of beneficial or detrimental impact to our microbiome ecology.
Aristo Vojdani PHD, MSC is a Professor of Neuroimmunology. He observes that by our first year of life, we have an individually unique microbiome fingerprint that is locked in as our baseline complex cellular ecology. By age 2-3, the diversity of microbiota is increasing with increased exposure to foods and environment, while the variability in our ecology decreases. 78% of the microbiome is in the gut (about 2kg in an adult), the rest is found throughout all organs and fluids in the body including important microbiota in the skin which we’ll get to later.
How Do Microbiota Help Us?
While there is much research revealing new aspects each year about the symbiotic relationships between microbiota and the body, so far the following is known:
- they stimulate the immune system, break down potential toxic compounds and synthesise certain vitamins and amino acids. An example is Vit B12 synthesis, which requires key enzymes found in bacteria and not in plants or animals .
- they digest and breakdown complex carbohydrates and fibre in the lower large intestine.
- They form short chain fatty acids (SCFA) – an important nutrient for muscle function and cellular integrity that also prevents certain chronic diseases, including bowel disorders and certain cancers .
- Symbiotic microbiota protect the body from digested pathogenic organism contaminants and potentially pathogenic resident microbiota.
- Certain species prevent over-population of harmful bacteria by competing with them at key sites of the intestinal membrane associated with immune activity and antimicrobial protein synthesis [4,5].
- Other benefits of balanced microbiome include resistance to: food sensitivities and allergies, constipation or diarrhoea, painful joints and general inflammation, certain dental and oral hygeine issues, skin disorders, menstrual symptoms and susceptibility to yeast infections as well as bowel and digestive disorders.
- There is cross-over communication and exchange of microbiota DNA and body cell DNA via micro-RNA including microbiota in our food.
Microbiota in our skin
In our skin we have 50 bacteria for every skin cell on and in the dermis and inside the glands. Lorenzo Drago, PHD (Professor of Clinical Microbiology) says “these are called ‘core microbiota’ because there is vital communication between these microbiota and the immunological system inside the skin.” Therefore, many skin disorders as well as other conditions that find entry through damaged skin, may also be due to an imbalance of these particular microbiota caused by anti-bacterial and other chemical exposure to the skin including synthetic cosmetics that decrease microbiota diversity.
Some bacteria in the skin produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) that are important in modulating other bacteria who regulate yet other bacteria to maintain balance. SCFA’s also feed the cellular immune system of the skin.
Helping microbiota in your Skin:
- switch to personal care, beauty and cosmetic products without chemicals and metals, and oil stripping alcohols and mineral oils
- avoid hand sanitisers, anti- bacterial soaps and chemical detergents
- avoid over-washing hair and skin to allow the skin to develop its own oil and microbiota balance. Over-washing depletes microbiota balance and creates obver production of skin oils.
Communication between microbiota, our cells and organs
SCFA’s are critical to communication between microbiota, mitochondria, other cell and organs. Marrin Edeas, PHD (Chairman of Mitochondria and Microbiota World Societies) explains they are influential in mitochondrial biogenesis (self replication that increases cellular energy and efficiency) along with other factors like free radicals, nitric acid (NO) and H2S (Hydrogen Sulfide).
“We believe that microbiota control mitochondria” directing their level and locations of activity and life cycles. As essential energy sources and regulators every in the body, so microbiota by regulating mitochondrial function are key factors to harmony within and between organs of the body.
Dr. Kharrazian expands on the intimate connection and two-way pathways between brain and gut. Most of the traffic is actually from the gut to the brain and is initiated by microbiota which have direct access to the enteric nervous system (ENS). This nervous system covers the entire digestive system from mouth to anus and has more nerve endings than the spine, so is very dense. It connects to the vagus nerve which goes directly to the brain impacting our homeostatic and metabolic responses to change and even impacts our mental states through influences on neuro-transmitters and hormone production. Our gut produces the same hormones our endocrine system can and is another two-way channel of gut and brain that affects mind and body.
Research is showing that food itself also communicates genetic information to our own genes. Vojdani describes microbiota as our short term senses responding in real time to signals from the body and the state of food and health of the gut. They communicate not only via the ENS, vagus nerve, hormones and immune systems to the mitochondria but also directly with miRNA (microRNA transcribed by DNA as a ‘DNA photocopy’ to transfer out of the cell nucleus to create proteins that activate gene expression. Epithelial tissue (such as the intestinal lining) is a medium for this two way communication between microbiota nd mitochondria that impacts the cell nuleus and gene expression. This is why many researchers now view our body cells and our microbiome as one integrated ‘holobiont‘ (an aggregate of various organisms and their collective genomes working together as one symbiotic ecology). At Cork’s APC Microbiome Institute, gut and brain research by Dr. Clarke and Professor Cryan has demonstrated diversity and activity of specific microbiota in the gut directly influencing miRNA expression in the brain (amygdala and prefrontal cortex) impacting conditions of fear, anxiety, social finction and depression as well as being critical to specific windows in brain development .
Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas (President of the European Institute of Nutritional Medicine) states that there is more understanding emerging about these communication channels between mitochondria and the cell nucleus and how mitochondrial produced molecules “make our genome react to what’s happening”. (Genome is a term that refers to the stored information in DNA and chromosomes). Epigentics is leading a new area of study of what influences and changes our health. Out of this is greater understanding how diet, stress and environment influence cell damage and turn-over, telomere length (shortened by oxidative stress) and key markers of biological age, health and resilience.
- Ursell, L.K., et al. Defining the Human Microbiome. Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug; 70(Suppl 1): S38–S44.
- Morowitz, M.J., Carlisle, E., Alverdy, J.C. Contributions of Intestinal Bacteria to Nutrition and Metabolism in the Critically Ill. Surg Clin North Am. 2011 Aug; 91(4): 771–785.
- den Besten, Gijs., et al. The role of short-chain fatty acids in the interplay between diet, gut microbiota, and host energy metabolism. J Lipid Res. 2013 Sep; 54(9): 2325–2340.
- Arumugam, M., et al. Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome. Nature. 2011 May 12;473(7346):174-80.
- Canny, G.O., McCormick, B.A. Bacteria in the Intestine, Helpful Residents or Enemies from Within. Infect and Immun. August 2008 vol. 76 no. 8, 3360-3373.
- Hoban, A.E., et al., Microbial regulation of microRNA expression in the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Microbiome 2017 5:102 https://doi.org/10.1186/s40168-017-0321-3
References 1-5 https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
Many of the experts cited here have been quoted from the online series The Human Longevity Project at https://humanlongevityfilm.com/
- Dr. Mark Hyman (Director at Cleleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine)
- Kiran Krishnan (Research Biologist)
- Aristo Vojdani PHD, MSC (Professor of Neuroimmunology)
- Lorenzo Drago, PHD (Professor of Clinical Microbiology)
- Dr. Dimitris Tsoukalas (President of the European Institute of Nutritional Medicine)
- Sayer Ji (Natural Health Researcher and Educator)
- Marrin Edeas, PHD (Chairman of Mitochondria and Microbiota World Societies)
- Dr. Datis Kharrazian (Clinical Researcher, Functional Neurologist and Professor)
- Dr. Michael Ash, D.O. (Research and Clinical Educator)
- Dr. Allan Walker, Professor at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health