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September 10, 2013
Microbiome 101. NIH's Director of the Human Microbiome Project Takes Us on a Guided Bacteria Bus Tour of the Body
"The mother's microbiome has actually poised itself over nine months to ... become the prime source of microbes to the infant."
- Lita Proctor, Ph. D., Director of the Human Microbiome Project at the National Institutes of Health"-
On my way into work yesterday, I listened to Lita Proctor, the Director of the Human Microbiome Project at the National Institutes of Health, lead a clever imaginary "bus tour" through the body, patiently explaining how important our unique collection of bacteria is to our health & well-being.
"I've got to post the link to this NPR broadcast as soon as I get home from work," I thought.
"Nope, too interesting. Too important to relegate to one of the many items I post everyday. Personally, I want to remember this post. I'll post it on the blog, instead!"
So here you go!
From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint
You can listen to Rob Stein & Lita Proctor's Human Microbiome Bus Tour, & read a summary of it here. 8 minutes & 43 seconds long.
For the full transcript, click here.
My Notes. What I Call Microbiome 101, Taught by Lita Proctor
Don’t miss NPR’s “From Birth, Our Microbes Become As Personal As A Fingerprint,” by Rob Stein. It’s a tour of the microbiomes in our body, led by an expert: Lita Proctor, director of the Human Microbiome Project at the National Institutes of Health.
Below, is just my note-taking, reorganization of excerpts from the NPR transcript.
First things first: These buggers aren’t just in our gut--they’re a giant ecosystem inhabiting all of the nooks & crannies of our body, outnumbering our human cells more than 10 to 1, & poised to protect us from the bad bugs that make us sick-- & to ignore those that aren’t a threat. (H.L. note: over-zealous bug warriors are thought to be responsible for auto-immune diseases)
Our particular microbiome is as unique to us as our fingerprints, but, it often resembles those of our parents & siblings--and may stay with us throughout our lives--unless we take steps to change it. (and we can)
The start-up venture: The mother's microbiome has actually poised itself over nine months to basically become the prime source of microbes to the infant, then as the infant passes through the birth canal, it gets coated with all these microbes. These microbes kind of seed the baby with just the right mix. Combined with bacteria in breast milk and other microbes we encounter early in life, they slowly take shape in our first few years.
The mouth: There are completely different microbes hiding out in the teeth, roof of the mouth & gums. Most are helpful, but the wrong kind can cause gum disease, & as they flow through the body, are also associated with type-2 diabetes, heart disease, & even cancer.
The esophagus: The precise mix of bacteria in the esophagus, for example, seems to play a role in whether someone develops acid reflux and perhaps, esophageal cancer.
The nose: Bad microbes try to hide in the nose, waiting to make us sick. And so, if an outside microbe comes in, some kind of germ or pathogen, your microbes themselves act as a first line of defense by preventing the entry and/or colonization of that germ. Probably one of the most important things our microbes do - protect us from infections. (H.L. If the “bad guys” like to hide out in our noses, no wonder the neti pot rinses often protect us from run-of-the-mill colds.”
The armpits: They’re like a rainforest. That sweat that we produce is full of all kinds of nutrients that microbes love and they grow on that. While they're growing on all that delicious sweat, they're also in turn producing all kinds of anti-inflammatories and antimicrobials to protect us from microbes trying to colonize our skin.
Skin: Millions of different microbes inhabit our “oily parts”, like our back, -- and the “dry desert parts”, like our forearms. But, even in “the desert” of our dry parts, there are microbes that specifically adapt to that kind of habitat, that thrive and grow on those parts of your body where your skin flakes quite a bit.
It’s an interactive eco-system: All these different places on our bodies are totally different - but not totally independent. They're connected. There's a whole interaction that occurs between the different microbial habitats around the body. They send signals to our cells. Scientists have started eavesdropping on this complicated conversation. They've even isolated some of these signals and started testing them as treatments for diseases. Diseases like Crohn's, other inflammatory bowel diseases, multiple sclerosis and asthma.
Gut: The “main event”! It's the nerve center - a kind of mission control of the body. It's the most complex and the most diverse. And everything microbes are doing throughout the body - fighting off infections, revving up and dampening down our immune systems -- it’s all happening in THE GUT! If it's not functioning properly because of genetics or POOR DIET or some combination thereof, that can actually lead to all kinds of diseases. Diseases like colon cancer, colitis, maybe even diabetes and obesity.
Obesity: Turns out, there's a close link with obesity and changes in the microbiome. Obese people appear to have LESS DIVERSE gut microbiomes than lean people. Farmers fatten up their livestock by feeding them antibiotics and skinny mice get fat when scientists give them gut microbes from obese mice. So, there may be a link between the rise in obesity and the explosive use of antibiotics, and other things we're doing to mess up our gut microbes.
Modern society & microbes: In our Western society, we are just not exposed to as many microbes as we have in the past. Our microbial habitats look like they're much less diverse than earlier generations, and people in less developed countries. This may help explain why the rates of asthma and allergies have been soaring. We're not fully educating our immune system because it's not being exposed to a very wide range of microbes. [We overuse antibiotics, often unnecessarily, killing off the good bugs, along with the bad.] Antibacterial wipe anybody?
The BIG CAVEAT: This research is really new. No one knows what most of our microbes are really doing. But many scientists think our microbes are an essential part of us. And to maintain our health and well-being, we have to maintain the health and well-being of the ecosystems of our microbiomes.
There's SO MUCH MORE to the Story
The human microbiome, gut bacteria - it's my new favorite subject. I could go on & on, list umpteen articles, books, & podcasts to listen to. And I have, via my Facebook Page.
But, this post is just about Lita Proctor's "Bacteria Bus Tour Through the Body". If you want to know more, and are interested in becoming a "citizen scientist", why not check out "American Gut Project"going on at the University of Colorado at Boulder. If you want to participate, click here
Why Low Carb IS NOT THE WAY TO GO. Because, It's All About a FERMENTABLE SUBSTRATE. Find out what "The American Gut Project" has discovered about fostering a healthy microbiome, & why fiber is SO IMPORTANT. Click Here for "Sorry Low Carbers, Your Microbiome is Just Not That Into You!"
Off to enjoy my homemade yogurt, steel-cut oat, berry breakfast. Fermented food + high-fiber combo of soluble & insoluble fibers.