There is much that we know about the link between the microbiome and human health. There is also much that remains to be discovered.
I can easily cite 50 to 100 scientific papers that validate the profound effect of gut bacteria on inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel disease.
Initially, medical sciences focused on symptoms of functional GI disorders. The scientists found that constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and gas could be much improved by using a probiotic. Yet, twenty-five to thirty years ago, people would laugh when I recommended probiotics. People laughed and said, “Probiotics? That’s what you take when you have diarrhea, isn’t it?” I said, “No, no. That’s what you take if you want to feel better overall and if you want to have a better mood.”
Dr. Khem Shahani, a Pakistani microbiologist who came to the U.S.A in the 1960s, was a pioneer in the field of probiotics. When he began to recommend using probiotics, people told him to see a psychiatrist. They thought he had lost his mind. The consensus at the time was that bacteria made people sick. The idea that bacteria can have a beneficial effect was seen as ludicrous.
As you can see, medical science has come a long way in the last 50 to 60 in terms of its understanding of the human microbiome. Can you imagine what we’ll be talking about in the next 50 or 60 years? We won’t be focusing on giving anti-biotics anymore, we’ll be focusing on giving probiotics. We’ll be focusing on natural medicines.
Let’s look at some of the things we have already learned. New Zealand has one of the highest C-section rates in the world. I think approximately 30 percent of women don’t deliver vaginally. A lot of these C-sections are elective, meaning that they are not medically necessary. What makes this so unfortunate is that babies delivered by C-section miss out on being exposed to their mother’s beneficial vaginal and gastrointestinal flora at the time of birth. These babies are very short-changed.
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It turns out that babies born via C-section are a lot more prone to allergies and childhood illnesses. This is particularly true if the children have low levels of Bifidobacteria in their gut. The low levels of Bifidobacteria persist well beyond infancy. Even at ages 10, 12, 15, children born via C-section have much lower Bifidobacteria counts than children born vaginally.
Another interesting aspect of gut health is the discovery that cells in the small intestine are probably more effective at producing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin than the brain itself. We also know that by positively influencing this environment and improving the microbiome with a healthy diet and probiotics, rates of anxiety and depression can be lowered.
One study demonstrated that transplanting a fecal sample from a depressed person into a mouse with a sterile gut results in the mouse demonstrating evidence of anxiety and depression. Similar studies have been done in rats and rabbits.
I think science is going to one day discover that bacteria influence every single aspect of our being — the healthier the gut, the healthier the human.
What we don’t know yet is how this information is going to be used. Will it be used for the better, i.e., to make a positive difference for all of humanity? Or will it be used to create more pharmaceutical drugs designed to make someone billions?
The take-home message is that the better your microbiome, the better your health. That’s what it’s all about. Eating a good diet that is plant-focused with some lean protein and good fats is a good starting point. Along with a good diet, it’s vital to live a low-stress lifestyle. When you keep those two things in mind, you’re bound to create excellent gut health.