by Dr. Maurice Beer | MD, IFMCP
When I was first introduced to functional medicine, one of the new concepts we discussed was the microbiome.
Back in 1995 this was barely mentioned in conventional medicine, and if talked about the microbiome or probiotics with colleagues, they would respond that there was little evidence they were of any significance. The value of probiotics in digestive health was ignored by both general physicians and gastroenterologists. At best, people were told to consume yogurt because it was rich in lactobacillus.
A burgeoning interest
Fast forward to 2019 and we see a burgeoning interest in the microbiome, with extensive research and new insights that seem to develop almost daily regarding the influence of the microbiome on various aspects of health.
There are numerous microbiomes involved in human health. Aside from the gut there are microbiomes on the skin, in the oral cavity, lungs, nasal passages, and the vagina. A recent article in the New York Times talked about the influence of the microbiome on obesity and weight loss. And there are now established connections between the gut and various neurodegenerative disorders.
Commensal bacteria, which are those bacteria that our immune system sees as friendly, play a significant role in defending us against bacteria the cause illness. Fatigue can be directly related to the presence of elevated numbers of E. coli bacteria, which release lipopolysaccharides (LPS). LPS is known to be a mitochondrial toxin and contributes to fatigue. There’s also compelling research that links the microbiome to hormone function and in particular thyroid and sex hormones.
Your microbiome is under attack
There are numerous reasons that our microbiome is under stress. The bacteria in our gut can be affected by many commonly prescribed medications such as antibiotics, proton pump inhibitors, contraceptives, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs... stress... alcohol... nutritional deficiencies... and poor diet, especially excess sugar and processed foods. Some bacteria can give rise to gastrointestinal inflammation which causes the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, heartburn, ulcers, and inflammatory bowel disease.
We can improve our microbiome and our immune system‘s ability to distinguish harmful from friendly bacteria with a variety of methods. Exercise and healthy relationships increase opioid activity which increase the number of regulatory T cells, also called Treg cells. These cells perform a valuable function by modulating the immune system, maintaining tolerance to self-antigens, and preventing autoimmune disease.
Greater diversity equals better health
Improving the diversity of the intestinal microbiome is the key to improving intestinal resistance and resilience. By consuming a variety of vegetable fibers we increase microbiome diversity. Vitamin D, short chain fatty acids, and glutathione also all help to improve the function of Treg cells.
As diagnostic technology grows ever more sophisticated, there is still a great deal we need to learn and the available testing gets more sophisticated. We have come along way from the days that lactobacillus was the primary probiotic considered. The more we discover about the microbiome, the more we appreciate the essential role it plays in virtually every aspect of your health.
Round, JL; Marzmanian SK
The Gut Microbiota Shapes Intestinal Immune Responses
Bat Rev Immunol., 2009 May; 9 (5):313-23.doi:10.1038/nri2515
Bhaskara, et al Role of Short Chain Fatty Acids in Controlling T-refs and Immunopathology. Frontiers in
Microbiology, 2018;9 DOI:10.3389/fmicb.2018.01995
Jason Hawrelak- Probiotic Advisor, Meet Your Microbiome