Boosting Immune Support with Human Microbes

A frustrated Dr. Alexander Khoruts was out of ideas for treating a woman with a vicious case of Clostridium difficile. Antibiotics weren’t working so Dr. Khoruts decided his patient required a transplant.  He transplanted some of her husband’s bacteria .

Prior to the transplant , they knew , her intestinal flora was in a desperate state . “The expected bacteria just didn’t exist in her,” said Dr. Khoruts. “She was colonized by all kinds of misfits.” Two weeks after the procedure , the transplanted flora had taken over . “That community was able to function and cure her disease quickly” .

To state that the medical community was taken aback with the outcome is something of an understatement.  It shouldn’t be. Scientists are regularly blown away by the complexity , power , and sheer number of bacteria that have colonized our bodies. We have over 10 times more microbes than cells.

We all have populations of various species, but those species usually fulfill the same essential chemistry that we need to be healthy . One of those jobs is breaking down complex plant molecules.  We have a pitifully small number of enzymes encoded in the human genome, so we rely on microbes . As well as supporting the digestive function , the microbiome helps us in a variety of other ways. The bacteria in our nasal passage , for example, make antibiotics that can kill the dangerous pathogens we sniff .

In order to co-exist with our internal flora own bacteria population , our immune system has to be able to tolerate myriad of harmless bacteria , while attacking pathogens . Researchers are finding that the microbiome itself guides the immune system to the proper balance.  One way the immune system fights pathogens is with inflammation. Too much inflammation can be damaging , so we also have immune cells that produce inflammation-reducing signals. With their ability to contain unrestrained free radicals, antioxidant populations also support an inflammation fighting function.

Scientists are finding new links between our bacteria populations and our health. They’re also learning that many conditions are accompanied by dramatic changes in the composition of our inner ecosystems. For example asthmatics have a different combination of bacteria in their lungs than healthy people. Obese people also have a different set of species in their guts than people of normal weight.

 Some studies indicate that babies delivered by Caesarian section are more vulnerable to skin infections since they might lack the protective shield of bacteria from their mother’s birth canal. Caesarean sections have also been connected to a rise in asthma and allergies in children . So have the increased use of antibiotics in the U.S. and other developed countries. Children who live on farms — can pick up healthy dose of bacteria from the soil — are less prone to getting autoimmune disorders than children who grow up in cities.

We consistently underestimate the importance of microbes and bacteria to our health and our medical profession has been too quick to take out their pads of paper and write up prescriptions for antibiotics and synthetic drugs.  Digestive enzymes, healthy bacteria and natural support for our immune systems  might be a more thoughtful route to take in the future if we want to change this trend.

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