My sister was right. I had an imbalance that I had to treat.
The antibiotic I took successfully cured my respiratory infection. It killed the enemy that was making me sick but also took down some good troops in the battle.
There are 10 times more bacteria in our body than human cells!
Inside your gut: Amazing picture of the microscopic communities that live inside our gut; the gut cells are in blue, and the bacteria from the genus Firmicutes in yellow and Bacteroidetes in fuchsia. Credits: Popular Science and Kristen A. Earle, 2014 (Cell Host & Microbe)
A microscopic society of bacteria, protists (other unicellular cells), viruses and fungi colonize almost every part of our body without causing us any harm.
Scientists are now realizing that different communities (microbiomes) live in different habitats in our body (mouth, skin, bellybutton, vagina and, especially, in the gut) which is radically changing how we see either curative or preventive medicine.
Going back to basics, almost 10 years ago scientists sampled bacteria from different parts of the body of 240 healthy individuals. The so-called Human Microbiome Project sought to understand the complex relationships between these microorganisms and humans.
This ground-breaking initiative was followed by other projects and, in 2012, the International Human Microbiome Consortium was formed.
The huge interest in this type of research is understandable: studies have demonstrated a connection between our microbiome composition and a number of chronic health conditions (gastrointestinal, autoimmune and cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, asthma), as well as certain neurological diseases (Alzheimer) and behavioural changes (depression).
Scientists are also realizing that the microbiome can be an important ally for certain therapies. Gut microbes can help reduce inflammation and influence how the immune system deals with cancer, affecting the efficacy of certain anti-cancer drugs.
Our gut microbiome is under attack
Antibiotics, although developed to target specifically certain types of bacteria, can deeply disturb our gut microbial allies. A recent study showed that these drugs can have severe long-term impacts in the microbial community of the gut. The body may take up to a year to recover!
The typical Western diets (high in fat, cholesterol, sugar and salt and low in soluble and insoluble fibers) and stress also affects our gut microbiome ecosystem.
The rescue is in what we eat. Some solutions are easier to swallow than others: prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics but also… fecal transplants!
There is still a long way to go for this research, but it is clear to all that a definite way to optimize the gut flora is through a diverse and balanced diet.
All attempts to repair a dysfunctional gut community have in common the reestablishment of the primordial composition of the gut microbiome via probiotics (ingestion of live cultures) or even fecal transplants (yes… you read it right!). But this may not be enough – a proper environment needs to be fostered (with probiotics and synbiotics) to promote the good bacteria multiplication.
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes of a healthy gut. If you want to know more about the gut microbiota, check out the cool infographic below (available at the Gut Microbiota Worldwatch website).
Getting to know your gut microbiome by the Gut Microbiota & Health Section of the European Society of Neurogastroenterology and Motility (ESNM), Gut Microbiota Worldwatch.
Have you heard about microbiomes? Will you think twice before taking an antibiotic?