July 3, 2012

"O" Zone - July

A Healthy Body Begins With a Healthy Belly
A recent study showed how vital our gut bacteria are to good health, just how early in life we develop our digestive system, and how it is a life-long gift or curse.      

        We have about 3-10 Trillion cells in our bodies.  But we have about 100 Trillion bacteria and parasites that live within our system.  They coat our skin, eyes, nose, mouth, and entire digestive tract, and perform life-giving service to us.  They help us digest, clean out, protect against infections, and in essence they even think and dictate our food cravings at times. 

         The core of this systemic infection of health-bringing bacteria is firmly established by the age of 3.  This forms the foundation of the level of our health for the rest of our life.  Suddenly, the importance of breastfeeding, healthy eating, and avoiding antibiotics unless it is life-threatening takes on a whole new level of importance: it forms the very foundation of the rest of our life. 

         A study several years ago linked the use of one course of antibiotics before the age of 1 as increasing the likelihood of childhood asthma by up to 8 times.  If a person has childhood asthma, it increases the likelihood of dying of respiratory failure by up to 17 times.  That is a heavy price to pay for not treating our closest friends-our bowel flora-like enemies.  They are our first line of defense.  

         If you have taken antibiotics frequently, have digestive problems, feel bloated, gain weight too easily, have strong food cravings, get infections too easily, experience autoimmune conditions, get frequent yeast infections, we need to talk.  Getting your gut flora healthy, will go a long way to getting you healthier.  You can probably feel much better than you do.

         Here is the original article:

How Bacteria in Our Bodies Protect Our Health 
Researchers who study the friendly bacteria that live inside all of us are starting to sort out who is in charge--microbes or people?
By Jennifer Ackerman  | May 15, 2012

         Biologists once thought that human beings were phys iological islands, entirely capable of regulating their own internal workings. Our bodies made all the enzymes needed for breaking down food and using its nutrients to power and repair our tissues and organs. Signals from our own tissues dictated body states such as hunger or satiety. The specialized cells of our immune system taught themselves how to recognize and attack dangerous microbes-pathogens-while at the same time sparing our own tissues.

         Over the past 10 years or so, however, researchers have demonstrated that the human body is not such a neatly self-sufficient island after all. It is more like a complex ecosystem-a social network-containing trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that inhabit our skin, genital areas, mouth and especially intestines. In fact, most of the cells in the human body are not human at all. Bacterial cells in the human body outnumber human cells 10 to one. Moreover, this mixed community of microbial cells and the genes they contain, collectively known as the microbiome, does not threaten us but offers vital help with basic physiological processes-from digestion to growth to self-defense.
         Bacterial cells in the body outnumber human cells by a factor of 10 to 1. Yet only recently have researchers begun to elucidate the beneficial roles these microbes play in fostering health.

         Some of these bacteria possess genes that encode for beneficial compounds that the body cannot make on its own. Other bacteria seem to train the body not to overreact to outside threats.

         Advances in computing and gene sequencing are allowing investigators to create a detailed catalogue of all the bacterial genes that make up this so-called microbiome.

         Unfortunately, the inadvertent destruction of beneficial microbes by the use of antibiotics, among other things,  may be leading to an increase in autoimmune disorders and obesity.
         When we hear about genetic variation between people, we think about the hidden language of our genes, encoding everything from eye color to cancer risk. But inside all of us lies another diverse genetic pool capable of being measured quite simply: in our poop.

         Tanya Yatsunenko, PhD Student and Microbiologist Extraordinaire 

         Microbes in our gut, referred to as a 'microbiome,' vary significantly from person to person comprising a genetic diversity that outnumbers ours 100 to 1. This vast bacterial ecosystem influences much of how we extract nutrients and is affected by our diet and lifestyle. The influence of our gut microbiome is far-reaching, manipulating our immune system and potentially our susceptibility to a surprising array of disease: from multiple sclerosis to heart health. Some researchers have even suggested that fecal transplants could be a viable therapy for multiple diseases, including obesity.

         A group based at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently published a colossal survey of the gut microbiome in Nature. Their research examined 531 fecal specimens from children and adults in far-flung corners of the world: Guahibo Amerindians from Amazonas State of Venezuela, Malawi, and the United States.

         A common bacteria, Prevotella spp., found in our gut mucosa
         Their research found that the first 3 years of life represents a time of development of the gut microbiome, with shared features found in children of all regions. Adults possess far more diverse repertoires, with those in the US more uniform than ones found in rural communities of Malawi and Amerindians, indicating that the Western lifestyle impacts the gut community systemically. Intriguingly, the study also found that breast-fed infants in Malawi and Venezuela have a higher proportion of microbes capable of synthesizing riboflavin, commonly found in meat and dairy products, could the gut microbe community be compensating for a lack of this vitamin in this population?

         We were lucky enough to speak with first author Tanya Yatsunenko, a brilliant doctoral student in Dr. Jeff Gordon's lab at Washington University. Tanya spoke to us about her research, finding your path in science, and what it's really like to extract DNA from 531 fecal samples.