More and more, science is finding that teeny tiny creatures living in your gut are there for a definite purpose. Known as your microbiome, about 100 trillion of these cells populate your body, particularly your intestines and other parts of your digestive system.
In fact, 90 percent of the genetic material in your body is not yours, but rather that of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms that compose your microflora.
True, some of these bacteria can make you sick; for example, the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases recently found Crohn’s Disease may be caused by immune responses to certain gut microbiota.
But the majority are good, and they work together as helpmates to aid your digestive system and keep you well. Beneficial bacteria, better known as probiotics, along with a host of other microorganisms, are so crucial to your health that researchers have compared them to “a newly recognized organ.” For example, we now know that your microflora influence your:
- Genetic expression
- Immune system
- Brain development, mental health, and memory
- Weight, and
- Risk of numerous chronic and acute diseases, from diabetes to cancer
According to the featured article in Time Magazine:1
“Our surprisingly complex internal ecology has been a hot topic in medicine lately. Initiatives such as the Human Microbiome Project2, an extension of the Human Genome Project, have been working tirelessly to probe potential links between the human microbiota and human health, and to construct strategies for manipulating the bacteria so that they work with us rather than against us.
…They’ve been linked to a range of nasty conditions, including obesity, arthritis, and high cholesterol. Now, two newer areas of research are pushing the field even further, looking at the possible gut bug link to a pair of very different conditions: autism and irritable bowel disease.”
Microflora Being Investigated to Ascertain Links with Autism and IBS
This is precisely what Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride‘s work centers around, and her Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) nutritional plan is designed to reestablish proper gut flora in order to heal and seal your gut – thereby reversing and eliminating ailments running the gamut from autism, ADD/ADHD, learning disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, just to name a few possibilities. It’s exciting to see science is starting to take this more seriously, as autism has reached epidemic proportions.
According to the featured Time article:3
“Up to 85 percent of children with autism also suffer from some kind of gastrointestinal distress such as chronic constipation or inflammatory bowel disease. Research published in 2005 in the Journal of Medical Microbiology and in 2004 in Applied Environmental Microbiology4 reported that the stools of autistic children contained higher levels of the bacterium Clostridium,while two 2010 studies in the Journal of Proteome Research5 and Nutritional Neuroscience6 reported unusual levels of metabolic compounds in autistic children’s urine consistent with the high bacterial levels found in the stools of autistic patients.
In 2011, a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that mice with essentially germ-free guts showed abnormal movement and anxiety symptoms, suggesting that at least some active intestinal biome is essential for normal development.
‘Until a little while ago it was outlandish to suggest that microbiomes in the gut could be behind this disease,’ University of Guelph assistant professor of biology Emma Allen-Vercoe said. ‘But I think it’s an intersection between the genetics of the patient and the microbiome and the environment.’”
Recent research published in the journal Science7 may shed much needed light on the persistent and hard-to-treat nature of irritable bowel disease (IBD). The researchers infected mice with Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite associated with lethal food-borne illness.
Interestingly, when the immune system of the mouse reacted to the presence of the parasite, it also began overreacting to beneficial bacteria. In fact, while about 10 percent of the T cells in the GI tract attacked the parasite, approximately 45 percent of the T cells began attacking other gut microbes. Furthermore, once the parasite had been successfully cleared, the immune system continued to misidentify beneficial bacteria as a foreign agents, preventing the mice from ever fully recovering from the infection. As stated by Time:
“If something similar happens in humans – either with Toxoplasma gondii or another invader – it could go a long way to explaining both the existence and persistence of all of the IBD conditions.”
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases:8
“The team’s findings are among the first to demonstrate that T cells in the gut mount an immune response to commensal bacteria [normal microflora] during an infection. They also are the first to show that commensal-specific T cells remain in circulation after the infection is cleared. Based on their observations, the investigators speculate that, when uncontrolled, commensal-specific T cells may contribute to development of Crohn’s disease, but more research is needed.”