The Importance of Bacteria

  I just read a fascinating article here about the ongoing research of the so-called ‘human microbiome’, or gut flora in other words. There is some stunning research going on in this area, in the development of probiotics and even transplanting healthy faecal matter containing bacteria, viruses, fungi and all manner of things into unhealthy people to ‘re-set’ their immune systems if you like.

One thing I thought was particularly interesting is what they found happens in pregnant women specifically to help babies digest the breast milk when they are born. As a species, we aren’t really able to digest milks well as we lack the lactase enzyme production but Nature helps out particularly in the early stages. This is why many babies can tolerate breast milk but not cow’s milk formulas and allergy problems start to appear not long after the introduction of the formula:

A number of recent reports shed light on how mothers promote the health of their children by shaping their microbiomes. In a study published last week in the journal PLoS One, Dr. Kjersti Aagaard-Tillery, an obstetrician at Baylor College of Medicine, and her colleagues described the vaginal microbiome in pregnant women. Before she started the study, Dr. Aagaard-Tillery expected this microbiome to be no different from that of women who weren’t pregnant.

“In fact, what we found is the exact opposite,” she said.

Early in the first trimester of pregnancy, she found, the diversity of vaginal bacteria changes significantly. Abundant species become rare, and vice versa.

One of the dominant species in the vagina of a pregnant woman, it turns out, is Lactobacillus johnsonii. It is usually found in the gut, where it produces enzymes that digest milk. It’s an odd species to find proliferating in the vagina, to say the least. Dr. Aagaard-Tillery speculates that changing conditions in the vagina encourage the bacteria to grow. During delivery, a baby will be coated by Lactobacillus johnsonii and ingest some of it. Dr. Aagaard-Tillery suggests that this inoculation prepares the infant to digest breast milk.

The baby’s microbiome continues to grow during breast-feeding. In a study of 16 lactating women published last year, Katherine M. Hunt of the University of Idaho and her colleagues reported that the women’s milk had up to 600 species of bacteria, as well as sugars called oligosaccharides that babies cannot digest. The sugars serve to nourish certain beneficial gut bacteria in the infants, the scientists said. The more the good bacteria thrive, the harder it is for harmful species to gain a foothold.

How fascinating.

The article goes on to talk about the developing research – there are thousands of species coming to light including some viruses and fungi we tolerate and live with day in day out. The faecal transplant stuff is yielding a lot of info and hope – but the focus is on producing specific probiotic pills to save having to do the full poo transplants, thank goodness:

Dr. Alexander Khoruts of the University of Minnesota and his colleagues want to make fecal transplants standard practice. They can now extract bacteria from stool, “removing the ‘ick’ factor,” as he puts it.

Dr. Khoruts and his colleagues have federal approval to start formal clinical trials on fecal transplants. Eventually, he would like to develop probiotic pills that contain just a few key species required to build the intestinal ecosystem.

“People are starting to take this seriously,” Dr. Fischbach said. “This is a therapy that’s going to help a lot of people.”

I would echo that. Probiotics may need a lot more developing yet but, in nutritional medicine, we have been saying stuff along these lines for many years now. We just need the scientists to be funded now to move it forward to mainstream acceptance. A fascinating area of science, or is it just me because I like anything bowely? 🙂

6 Replies to “The Importance of Bacteria”

  1. How strange that I’ve just read this on your blog when I read a lot of new information (for me) just last week on the same topic. I had no idea how babies got their gut flora before then.

    The probiotic subject is interesting too. One of our cats has had a lot of digestive issues. A vet tried to experiment with the aid of a lab to help and produced a sort of vaccine from her own poo which we then had to give her. It didn’t work. Possibly because they took the bacteria from her own poo rather than that of a properly healthy cat. But they may well have been feeling their way into a futuristic way of thinking about these things.

    A couple of years ago I used a liquid probiotic designed to pass through the acid stomach environment without harm, and forgot that I got on well with it. Then, recently after a couple of bad months with my IBS symptoms way out of control, I remembered it and am now back on it. It’s one of the new breed of probiotics. And interestingly it was developed first and foremost for use in farm animals. It was a vet who suggested as it worked so well for the animals that the developer (an independent UK family) look to try it out on humans where success was soon noted. They say you probably need to take it for a month to see benefit, and that three months will be enough to reset the digestive system. I’ve taken it for a week and have seen a dramatic reduction in my symptoms. I will be sticking with this for the three months.

    If anyone is interested in learning more it’s called Symprove. Google it. Tastes odd, but I don’t care if it brings me relief, as it seems to be doing.

    1. Hi Sue, just looked at that Symprove. From what I can tell it is a 4 strain probiotic with a prebiotic in a barley-based drink. May be traditionally gluten free but I would be careful if coeliac and certainly avoid if grain-sensitive. Is a strong enough probiotic from the looks of it, though, Sue so I shall investigate some more. Not sure about this vague unique delivery system…?!

  2. My 8 yr old cat’s bad breath & teeth scum healed up AFTER 1 month of taking friendly bacteria!
    My Barrier healing progress marker: I am able to absorb & tolerate friendly pro-biotics!!
    I was very depressed not being able to afford or get the absorption type tests to measure my progress, but now I am so very thrilled cuz I can once again after 10 years take friendly bacteria. All being on Micki Rose TGF diet!!

    After 6 months TGF I could sleep on my side with out my lungs getting painfully stuck together like glue & congested so I could not breathe.
    Might this have been stage a 1st barrier healing in the lungs?

    After 10 months TGF, I am now able to absorb friendly dairy gluten free pro-biotics without the terrible debilitating allergic reactions. I noticed I have more energy & have better focus, clarity & memory so possibly mygut & blood brain barrier are healing at same time being on the badly needed friendly pro-biotics?.

    I read that when the gut lining barrier is healing & when the gut can once again produce a mucin protein, then when one does not get the allergic symptoms one can assume by being able to absorb & tolerate the friendly bacteria their gut lining is healing!!??
    In the USA, I use Natren dairy free. I can now take herbs without a bad reaction too . Yippy Yea.

    Do the various body barriers heal at different times for different people or do they usually heal in some specific order?

    Thank you so very much for all your awesome forensic research!!


    1. Great to hear your progress, Becky. for those of you who want more on this, go to the blog.

      In answer to your barrier healing process question, simple answer is I don’t know. Everyone is so different. From a naturopathic perspective, we were always taught that healing happens from the outside to within and from the bottom to the top. In other words, skin first. That would be external first, then internal skin like lungs and gut and the deeper the skin is within the body, the longer it will take to heal. So, I suppose, skin on the feet/legs might heal first and gut/organs much later, head being last. A pure conjecture though!

      1. Thank you so much for response!! 🙂
        So very, very healing for us all to get your super awesome fantastic support!!

      2. Do you know, I think I got that wrong, was having hectic day and woke up thinking ‘Dur, wrong way round!’. In naturopathic medicine, the ‘law of cure’ I referred to goes from top to bottom, from within to without. That means healing should happen from the head down and on the surface first. You often see this with eczema/skin infections solving first on face, then arms and then legs, but a deeper (non-surface) issue in the head like neurological problems such as migraine will take much longer. Even longer might be organ or gland damage like adrenals/thyroid/liver/gut issues. Again, pure conjecture but wanted to get that right!

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