Studies on the Human Microbiome have been piling up over the last couple of years, and as a consequence of the many newfound links between bacteria and human health, an increasing amount of articles on our microbial dwellers has appeared in the mainstream press. So popular has the microbiome become that some even predict that 2015 will be “the year of the microbiome”. As is often the case with the coverage of health-related topics in the media, not everything is of high quality. However, there’s been a lot of articles on the human microbiome worth reading – and in this post I present some of my favorites. To avoid making this post excessively long, I’ve chosen to primarily include articles that cover overaching themes, while excluding pieces that focus on very specific topics.
Research on the human microbiome is booming, and scientists have moved from simply taking stock of gut flora to understanding the influence of microbes throughout the body.
When this low-grade inflammation burns on unabated, it has also been show to cause behavioral changes in mice, inducing conditions similar to anxiety and depression. That’s one reason researchers think the microbiome might be a crucial part of not only obesity and diabetes, but also some of society’s most pervasive mental health problems — the very illnesses that, too often, leave doctors stuck and patients frustrated.
A passionate kiss that lasts more than 10 seconds transfers about 80 million bacteria, researchers say.
For the 35 percent of American adults who do daily battle with obesity, the main causes of their condition are all too familiar: an unhealthy diet, a sedentary lifestyle and perhaps some unlucky genes. In recent years, however, researchers have become increasingly convinced that important hidden players literally lurk in human bowels: billions on billions of gut microbes.
“You can hardly mention a disease today where something hasn’t been looked at regarding the microbiota,” Lawrence Brandt, a gastroenterologist at Montefiore Medical Center, in the Bronx, who was among the first physicians in this country to perform fecal transplants, told me.
Thinking of a healthy body as an extension of a healthy farm, and vice versa, is a paradigm shift for many of us. But when we consider that all of our cells get their building blocks from plants and soil then, suddenly, it all makes sense. In fact, it is not too much of a stretch to say: We are soil.
Junk food may produce a kind of microbial anarchy. Opportunists flourish as the greater structure collapses. Cooperative members get pushed aside. And you, who both contain and depend on the entire ecosystem, pay the price.
The successful gardener has always known you don’t need to master the science of the soil, which is yet another hotbed of microbial fermentation, in order to nourish and nurture it. You just need to know what it likes to eat — basically, organic matter — and how, in a general way, to align your interests with the interests of the microbes and the plants.
This research raises the possibility that scientists could someday create drugs that mimic the signals being sent from the gut to the brain, or just give people the good bacteria — probiotics — to prevent or treat problems involving the brain.
Looking at human beings as ecosystems that contain many collaborating and competing species could change the practice of medicine
But next time you are served a delicious meal and fall asleep before doing the dishes, it wouldn’t hurt to try a new excuse: “The E. coli made me do it.”
The right combination of stomach microbes could be crucial for a healthy mind
The deep symbiosis between bacteria and their human hosts is forcing scientists to ask: Are we organisms or living ecosystems?
As soon as we are born, bacteria move in. They stake claims in our digestive and respiratory tracts, our teeth, our skin. They establish increasingly complex communities, like a forest that gradually takes over a clearing. By the time we’re a few years old, these communities have matured, and we carry them with us, more or less, for our entire lives.
Anyone with a vegetable garden knows that herbicides will make quick work of your weeds; but, used the wrong way, they will do the same thing to your food. Antibiotics, it has become clear, are herbicides for humans. Medically, they are absolutely vital—but they also can alter our internal ecosystem in ways, both big and small, that even a decade ago seemed unimaginable.
“People think bugs are out to get us,” Proctor says. “But we’re the ones changing our inner ecosystem.”
The traditional view is that a human body is a collection of 10 trillion cells which are themselves the products of 23,000 genes. If the revolutionaries are correct, these numbers radically underestimate the truth. For in the nooks and crannies of every human being, and especially in his or her guts, dwells the microbiome: 100 trillion bacteria of several hundred species bearing 3m non-human genes.