Your Gut - A complex character

Jan 30, 2014

By Dr. John Veltheim & Dr. Laura Stuve Ph.D.

Your Gut - A complex character

The last few years have seen a major paradigm shift in our understanding of the role of microbes in our health. This change is akin to the shock when watching the last few minutes of a movie, when it hits you that the villain is really the good guy, and the protagonist you have been rooting for is the evil schemer. 

From the time we were infants, we were warned about the dangers of "germs", things that would make us sick. We may have been vaccinated to protect us against terrible viruses. We may have suffered with colds and flus caused by these germs. We may have grown up with antibacterial wipes and other products to scrub our homes clean from these invisible but deadly bugs. We may have learned in school about even deadlier diseases of the past – the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages. 

Then, fast forward to 2012 when the Human Microbiome Project findings usher in a new paradigm of symbiosis between humans and microbes (the bugs are NOT the bad guys!). The work of the Human Microbiome Project has revealed that the human body is actually a superorganism or complex ecosystem of human cells living in a symbiotic relationship with 100 trillion bacteria and other microorganisms, collectively called the human microbiome. 

The vast majority of microbes that reside in different habitats on our skin, eyes, oral and nasal passages, and within our digestive and reproductive systems, are essential for our health. They provide key functions and proteins that our bodies require. Microbes have moved from their longstanding position as evil pathogens, invading our bodies and making us sick to "friends with benefits" or mutualists – organisms that live symbiotically together with us. We provide them with a nice, warm home. They reciprocate by providing essential services that our bodies need for healthy digestion, brain function and a proactive, but not overzealous, immune system.     

In contrast to our resident 100 trillion mutualist microbes covering 1000 or so different species, there are only about 50-100 pathological bacterial strains known. So while the focus in medicine and BodyTalk has been on the tiny part of the puzzle - the pathogens - it is time to consider the mutualists and the treatment strategies afforded by this new era of cooperation. 

Here is a sneak peek at the GUT Microbiome. 

The Gut Microbiome

The GI tract is the most exposed organ system to the outside environment and has an overall surface area of 200 square meters, about 100 times larger than the surface area of the skin! The most extensive and complex microbiome in the body is located in this environment. 

The intestine lining is a multi-layered system with distinct functions. The outside layer is a physical mucus layer that prevents pathogenic bacterial adhesion and blocks access of infectious pathogens to the inner tissues. The deeper functional barrier amazingly can distinguish the good bugs from the pathogens. The mutualist microbes are tolerated while the pathogens are recognized and eliminated. 

Meet a mutualist ....


While there are a few dangerous Clostridial pathogens, most of the species in this group are mutualists. 

They are involved in the care and feeding of colonocytes, providing the colon cell's food of choice, butyrate, as the end product of their fermentation process. Butyrate has anti-inflammatory properties in the colon and has been implicated in protection against colitis and colorectal cancer. 

Clostridial species have evidence for converting inactive forms of dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitters made in the gut to their active forms. These neurotransmitters can then be used for communication between the enteric nervous system and the brain. These organisms therefore are a key part of the gut-brain communication pathway and hence, can influence mood. 

Dr. John Veltheim and Dr.Laura Stuve, Ph.D., will soon be traveling the international circuit lecturing on the fascinating complexities of the microbiome and how it helps to shape our health (or disease). Read more


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