Micro-Flora: A Community of Wellness
There is a reason words like culture and colonies are used to describe the human microbiome. It’s about community. As with any healthy community, our gut has certain requirements to remain healthy including diversity, communication, environment and nurturing. When one of these components falls away, our microbiome falls out of balance.
by Erin Stokes, ND
That is not to say that all healthy microbiomes look alike. Research from the Human Microbiome Project shows that even among healthy individuals, each person owns remarkably different types of microbes in the gut, skin and mucosal tissue. Each person develops a unique microbiome from birth and throughout life.
Infants are born with a blank slate. By two years of age their microbiome has developed to full capacity thanks to family, food and their environment. Interestingly, women who undergo elective cesarean have distinctly lower microbial breast milk composition as compared to women who give birth vaginally or undergo non-elective cesarean. The milk bacteria and hormonal signaling during labor influence the microbial transmission into the breast milk.
These unique findings are helping scientists better understand the diversity and roles of these microbes. It is now widely understood that our bodily functions are not only due to our genes, but also the genes of the trillions of microorganisms that take up residence in our gut. The bacterial genomes of the human gut are referred to as the second genome. They instruct and regulate at least 3.3 million genes by acting as buffer and a translator to the goings on in the body .
NEW WORLD OF FUNCTIONAL WELLNESS
The role of these beneficial bugs on gastrointestinal health is widely known, particularly for commensal bacteria that live in the gut. They supply nutrients, metabolize hard to digest substances and fend off colonization of undesired microbes. However, research shows gut microbiome provides an untold number of functions that science is only beginning to discover.
One recent study shows that gut-luminal fluids, intestinal mucosa and gut microflora contain
high concentrations of various enzymes, which play a role in the oxidation, hydrolysis and conjugation of drugs. This could explain one of the reasons why individuals respond differently to medication dosages. One’s individual micro flora could provide clues to drug metabolism, absorption and efficacy.
Researchers describe the body’s ebb and flow of microbes as very dynamic. When healthy microbes are lush and abundant, all is well. However, when the microbial balance goes awry, normally benign gut microbes begin to take over and induce inflammation throughout the body. The community is disrupted.
A number of inputs can disrupt healthy bacteria including poor diets, stress, and medications, particularly antibiotics. For antibiotics, the disruption may be more than a temporary disturbance. For example, a two-day round of antibiotics immediately decreases the stability and variety of the gut microbiota. And, it can take as long as four years to gain even partial recovery after taking antibiotics.
RESTORATION OF GUT FLORA
Restoration of gut microflora requires probiotics, provided the formula is a culturally diverse assortment of strains that are stable and do not conflict with one another.
Probiotics may serve the following roles:
- Compete with pathogens,
- Stimulate both mucosal and systemic immunity,
- Stimulate the increase of anti-inflammatory cytokines (IL-10, TGF-ß) and decrease the expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines (TNF-a, IFN-y),
- Metabolize hormones and carcinogens,
- Synthesize vitamins K, pantothenic acid, B6 and biotin;
- Synthesize short-chain fatty acids.
The research is only just beginning to discover how a diverse and healthy microflora influences overall health and immunity. Research is ongoing to collect more clues at the how one’s diet, environment and even infancy and childhood can affect the development of one’s microbiome. The belief is that in years to come, practitioners will know enough to administer carefully designed colonies of bacteria to address specific health issues. Until then, probiotic diversity and stability is crucial to maintaining a healthy microbiome.
Erin Stokes, ND is a Boulder-based Naturopathic Doctor and Medical Director at INNATE Response. This article was written with the assistance of Kimberly Lord Stewart.
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* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.