Who’s Inhabiting Who?

Dr. Sarah LoBisco, ND

We have entered an exciting new frontier in healthcare! It’s related to the emergence of a scientific specialty called microbiomology, the study of the various microbes in our bodies and how they modulate our health. The Clinical Microbiology and Infection journal states, “the microbiome constitutes the last human organ under active research.” The researchers explain this new emerging science as follows:

Like any other organ, the microbiome has physiology and pathology, and the individual (and collective?) health might be damaged when its collective population structure is altered. The diagnostic of microbiomic diseases involves metagenomic studies. The therapeutics of microbiome-induced pathology include microbiota transplantation, a technique increasingly available. Perhaps a new medical specialty, microbiomology, is being born.1

Microbiomology research is exploding and you’d have to stop any communication from the outside world in order to escape the vast amount of headlines that have been cluttering the news sites and health blogs on it. In fact, if you google “microbiome”, as of today, you’ll get over two million hits!

Why We Love the Microbiome

You may wonder what has researchers and practitioners so obsessed with the microscopic critters that line our insides. With the microbiome’s collective genes of 10,000+ species outnumbering our human genes 150 to 1, their impact on our health is profound and kind of “Freaky-Friday” like.2-3 These buggers’ collective actions in our body can actually regulate our biochemisty in extensive ways.

In fact, a favorable balance of microbiota has been shown to support the manufacturing of various vitamins,3  effect tumor growth4 and pathogen inhibition;5 modulate cardiovascular disease risk;6   impact mood7and behavior;8 help with detoxification,9 digestive health,10 estrogen metabolism11and weight;12-15modulate diabetes;16support skin health;17 decrease food sensitivities;18 impact autism risk,19 and modulate fatty liver disease,20 autoimmunity,21 and other disease processes.

So, let me ask you… “Who’s in charge of whom?”

It’s no wonder a bunch of us health devotees regularly swallow bug pills! After all, if the microbiome is so important for wellness, wouldn’t modulating their growth by imbibing various organisms assist with achieving optimal health? 23-25

What Happens When You Swallow a Bug

A small recent study, published in the April issue of mBio® and performed by University of Maryland’s School of Medicine researchers, sought to discover what would happen when ingesting a popular strain of a probiotic, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG (LGG)for 28 days in 12 healthy individuals (seven females and five males) aged 65-80 years old. The participant’s stool was analyzed on day 56, one month after stopping the probiotic and compared to their baseline.

The researchers discovered that ingestion of the probiotic shifted the microbiome of the participants and that LGG caused other gut bacteria to multiply including Bacteroides, Eubacterium, Faecalibacterium, Bifidobacteriumand Streptococcus. These critters have been shown to have a range of benefits in humans, including the promotion of a healthy immune system. Furthermore, LGG seemed to modulate certain bug species that produce the short-chain fatty acid butyrate, which is the preferred nutrient for colon cells and exhibitis anti-inflammatory properties.27

Interestingly, previous rodent studies have demonstrated that using various microbes can modulate specific immune responses against malaria28-29 and parasites.30 These previous studies support that manipulation of our microbiome can impact our immune response and highlight the importance of keeping our belly bugs happy.

How To Keep Your Trillion Little Friends Happy

Besides swallowing a pill of bugs, did you know that we can manipulate our microbiome by our actions as well? Medical News Today (MNT) reports that diet and exercise can be used to modulate a healthy microbiome:

According to the Mayo Clinic, a healthy diet can encourage the presence of good gut bacteria. They note that consuming fermented foods – such as miso and sauerkraut – increases the level of fermenting bacteria in the gut. In addition, fruits and vegetables contain fibers and sugars that can boost the health of gut bacteria. Exercise may also be key to improving gut bacteria diversity…31

Furthermore, a study in Nature reported on the relationship between dietary intake and shifts in microbiota populations. The study discussed how changes can occur quit rapidly and the consumption of animal or plant products change microbial communities differently. Researchers report:

“Here we show that the short-term consumption of diets composed entirely of animal or plant products alters microbial community structure and overwhelms inter-individual differences in microbial gene expression.”

If Buggies Ain’t Happy, Neither Are You

It’s now becoming clearer that as we change the environment our bugs live in, these microscopic residents move in and out accordingly. This means that if you want to keep the microbes you have because you are healthy, keep eating and doing what you’re doing. However, if you’re not happy with your current health state, it may be time for a “microbiome shift.”

You’re naturopathic or functional medicine doctor can help you weed and feed the bugs you need through dietary and lifestyle recommendations, prescribing specific strains of probiotics, and testing the bugs that reside in your poo. It’s a stinky job, but a noble and effective one!


LoBisco Sarah Lobisco, ND, is a graduate of the University of Bridgeport’s College of Naturopathic Medicine (UBCNM). She is licensed in Vermont as a naturopathic doctor and holds a Bachelor of Psychology from State University of New York at Geneseo. Dr. LoBisco is a speaker on integrative health, has several publications, and is a certification candidate in functional medicine. Currently, she is the Director of Clinical Education for an esteemed nutraceutical company.



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