The Microbiome-Health Connection

Microbiome

Reprinted with permission from Experience Life Magazine.
By Pamela Weintraub

An out-of-whack microbiome — the community of bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi that live in our bodies — can spell disaster for our health. Here are just a few conditions that can result.

Sinusitis. Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), characterized by inflammation of the nasal passages, accounts for more than 500,000 emergency room visits a year in the United States alone. It can cause congestion, fatigue and depression. It’s also been linked to asthma, meningitis and aneurysms. Recent evidence suggests that a depleted microbiome in nasal passages may be at the root. A team from the University of California, San Francisco, compared nasal passages of 10 CRS patients with 10 healthy people, finding far less diversity in the microbiomes of the CRS group overall; overgrowth of a single organism, Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum, was implicated in the disease. Another experiment depleted mice microbiomes by treating them with antibiotics for seven days; later, treated and untreated mice were exposed to Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum. Only those with the treated, depleted microbiomes had symptoms of sinusitis.

Infant immune deficits. Breast-fed babies obtain microbes from mother’s milk, an elixir that ends up enhancing early microbial colonization of the gut. This enriched microbiome, in turn, alters the expression of genes involved in immunity, conferring enhanced resistance to pathogens — an advantage that formula-fed infants, with less diverse microbiomes, do not possess.

Type 2 diabetes. An international team of scientists found that a specific pattern of intestinal microbes can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disease that prevents the body from properly utilizing sugar for energy. The pattern can serve as a biomarker, enabling those at risk to alter diet to prevent onset of disease.

Asthma. Scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada showed that antibiotics given to mice early in life permanently shift the mix of bacterial organisms in the gut, disrupting the immune system and the inflammatory response throughout life. Higher risk of allergic asthma is a result. (Presumably, this is something that microbiome therapy could, at some future date, correct.)

Cancer. A study published in Science suggests that inflammation — resulting from infection, injury or other bodily insult — changes the ecosystem of the gut, allowing cancer-causing pathogens to invade and increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.

Psychiatric disease. Evidence suggests that supplementing with certain probiotics can treat anxiety and other psychiatric ills. To study this, researchers from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in Ireland fed a popular probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice and found significantly fewer stress-, anxiety- and depression-related behaviors than those fed broth alone. Not only did the bacteria improve behavior, they also helped reduce levels of the stress hormone corticosterone.

Clostridium difficile. A highly infectious and resistant pathogen that causes recurrent bouts of diarrhea, C. diff can run amok in imbalanced microbiomes, such as those where antibiotics have wiped out beneficial bugs. A study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found that patients with persistent C. diff had much less bacterial diversity than patients in a control groupWhen it comes to treating C. diff, fecal transplants greatly outperform antibiotics, The New England Journal of Medicine reported this year, because they repopulate the microbiome.

For more information on the Microbiome, check out  Your Microbiome – The Ecosystem Inside.

And to keep your Microbiome on track, check out  Build a Better Microbiome.


Pamela Weintraub is executive editor of Discover magazine and the author of Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

Reprinted with permission from Experience Life Magazine.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit www.experiencelife.com to learn more, to sign up for Experience Life newsletters, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

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  • Sara

    Hi Dr. Lipman, I have a question – according to the 3 allergists I have seen, they claim I have vasomotor rhinitis (my symptom is a chronic runny nose) and there is no cause or cure unless I want to use a steroid spray to dry out my nasal passages. Above states that rhinitis might be the cause of a depleted microbiome in the nasal passage. What are your recommendations to improve the nasal microbiome? Thank you!

  • Brenda

    I also had chronic runny nose and when I went gluten free for other health reasons, my nose stopped running.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Sara – Dr. Lipman cannot give medical advice on this forum, but you may want to try a simple saline wash or neti pot daily; you also may want to look into dissolving probiotic powder in water and rinsing your nasal passages with it. Best of luck to you.
    -Be Well health coach, laura

  • Sara

    Hi Laura,
    Thank you for getting back to me and I will give those ideas a try. I love what Dr Lipman and all of his Well health coaches do! Take care. – Sara

  • Anonymous

    I’m not giving medical advice, but I am allowed to do patient teaching- get the highest number of probiotic species you can- I began using a 16 species capsule from Swanson vitamins- and put a little powder on your finger and put it up your nose- it is simple. My goats as babies “inoculate” themselves by eating dirt. Look up the different cultures on americangut dot com, and get a load of what healthy people eat to inoculate their guts. I am glad to see the good bacteria movement take hold- Greek yogurt was supposed to do this also and started out with full fat yogurt, but then suddenly they were all no fat which ruins the point. Fat is good, and it is part of our good gut health. Coconut oil helps gut health too and brain health.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not giving medical advice, but I am allowed to do patient teaching- get the highest number of probiotic species you can- I began using a 16 species capsule from Swanson vitamins- and put a little powder on your finger and put it up your nose- it is simple. My goats as babies “inoculate” themselves by eating dirt. Look up the different cultures on americangut dot com, and get a load of what healthy people eat to inoculate their guts. I am glad to see the good bacteria movement take hold- Greek yogurt was supposed to do this also and started out with full fat yogurt, but then suddenly they were all no fat which ruins the point. Fat is good, and it is part of our good gut health. Coconut oil helps gut health too and brain health.

  • Mary

    I also needed to use baking soda along with salt in the neti pot. Otherwise, the solution really burned. Just experiment and find out what feels best to YOU.