Your microbiome and your health

Given my love for the topic of your microbiome–the ecosystem that is you and your (mostly beneficial) bacteria– I’ve taken far too long to write about this topic.  Fascinating new research out of Denmark basically finds that the greater diversity of bacteria in your gut, the healthier you are likely to be:

Scientists have discovered new clues about how microbes in our digestive systems may affect health.

European researchers found that the less diverse those microbes are, the more likely people are to gain weight, become obese and develop risk factors for serious health problems…

Perhaps even more surprising and important: People who had less microbial diversity — whatever their weight — were more likely to have a variety of risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Those risk factors included insulin resistance and inflammation.

“Even lean people who are poor in bacterial species have a higher risk of developing these pathologies,” Ehrlich says.

All this supports the ideas that eating a poor diet or taking lots of antibiotics may be factors in the obesity epidemic and associated health problems, in part, because of the way they affect our gut microbes, Ehrlich says…

The researchers also identified eight species of bacteria that appeared to be missing among the people whose microbes were depleted, raising the possibility of someday creating a probiotic that could help.

“It’s very possible to make a brew that is the collection of the [richly diverse bacterial] population, put that into a probiotic pill and give that to people who have the poor population and see if the good ones can take over and actually transmit the healthy state,” Evans says.

I don’t make a lot of predictions, but here’s one.   Within 20 years when doctors run labs at your annual exam, those labs will include an analysis of your microbiome.  And if there’s clear deficiencies, they’ll prescribe you the appropriate bacteria.  We’re clearly just at the beginning of understanding all this, but the evidence is ever growing that the bacteria that live within us are a huge factor in our overall health.

And, while I’m at it, last night I got the bacteria-free lab results from my recent physical.  You’ll (hopefully) be pleased to know that I’m in very good, though not optimum health.  My HDL checks in at 50, which is fine, but over 60 is optimal.  Likewise, by 109 LDL is fine, but higher than the <100 which is optimal.  Damn it, all those fruits and vegetables and aerobic exercise– I wanted optimal!  Then again, also lots of pizza and various junk food.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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