Of all the areas of research in medicine and wellness, the most fascinating right now is germs: the ones that live on us and inside us. We've all heard of "good" bacteria and "bad" bacteria, but new research is going beyond these shallow titles.
Our human microbiome, the collection of all the germs inside our body, is being studied not only by large governmental agencies like the National Institutes of Heath but also by so-called citizen science projects, which are crowdfunding our deeper understanding of our unique ongoing interaction with our environment.
But what do these microbes do, and how does that help our health?
These new studies are showing that microbes have significant roles to play in our health and we're just seeing the tip of the iceberg. These germs are crucial to our digestion and metabolism, but what may prove their most vital action for humans is best described by a somewhat ironic acronym, C.R.A.P.
Colonization Resistance Against Pathogens (C.R.A.P) refers to the functional immunity that each of us gains from having a rich and diverse group of germs in our bodies, especially in our digestive tracts. Having a strong colony allows us to fight off the bad guys. They need us (as hosts) and we need them, and the sooner we start acting like best friends the better.
The new research shows this is important especially in childhood, when we are acquiring germs from our environment. If we are either underexposed, through overly aggressive sanitation or separation (from each other or our environment) or our stocks are destroyed (by antibiotics), our immune system seems less able to determine which substances we should react to and which not. This is fuelling the pediatric allergy epidemic that is reaching all outposts of the developed world.
This principle holds very true during our adult lives too and couldn’t be more sharply in focus right now. Recently, many scientists, doctors and commentators have described the alarming rise of superbugs, germs that are resistant to antibiotics. Very few new antibiotics are in the pipelines of the major 12 pharmaceutical companies, and this is a big worry for patients and doctors alike.
If the drugs don’t work, what’s the plan?
Well, there are a couple of natural therapies that hold a lot of promise against superbugs such as MRSA and C-diff. First, a protein found in breast milk has been shown to help destroy MRSA, which is particularly interesting as breast milk also contains over 700 strains of "good" bacteria. Secondly, while we're on the subject of C.R.A.P., fecal transplants (yes, transplanting feces into your gut!) are gaining significant backing after many successful clinical trials. In fact, the next generation of medical tourists are making their way to Oregon to receive this exciting treatment.
If you're still unsure about the awesomeness of C.R.A.P., as well as helping us fight off pathogens (that very small percentage of germs that are not mutually beneficial), good colonization also helps to down-regulate inflammation, which is being fingered as a major contributor (if not cause) of most our modern chronic and autoimmune disease (which affect 50% of all Americans).
So, what should we all do to maintain health and encourage good colonization?
1. Stop the Massacre. Only use antibiotics when 100% necessary (definitely not sinus or viral issues)
2. Change your Mindset. Appreciate your microbes, even though they are invisible
3. Get into Nature. It’s Summer in America right now, go and get dirty, take a walk, adopt a pet or even just open a window!
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!