The Secret Life of Your Microbiome

2 Mins read

With so many things competing for your attention, you probably don’t give much thought to the trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa living in and on your body. Recent findings, however, suggest your microbes may warrant more respect.

All those microorganisms — collectively known as the microbiome — play a critical role in supporting your health. Yet despite the ecosystem’s significance, a lot of its operation remains a mysterious.

Some very tiny proteins, however, may hold some big answers. Stanford University Med school researchers Ami Bhatt, MD, PhD, and Hila Sberro, PhD, discovered that the microbiome produces tens of thousands of proteins — many so small that they’ve been overlooked in past studies. However their impact is important.

These petite proteins belong to more than 4,000 biological families. They are able to slip through cell membranes to hold messages, thus playing a vital role in intercell communication and immune-system function.

Your gut microbes could also influence your behavior more than you anticipate. Although previous research has suggested an association between gut microbial composition and animal behavior, few research has rigorously investigated the possible correlation in humans. Doctoral candidate Anna Aatsinki at Finland’s University of Turku attempted to explore this topic as part of the FinnBrain research project.

Aatsinki’s pioneering study analyzed the gut microbiota of two.5-month-old infants and their behavior at Six months old. She found some striking associations, including less negative emotionality and fear reactivity the type of children whose guts featured greater bacterial diversity.

Research has shown that certain early-life temperamental traits may lead to later mental-health problems — such as anxiety disorders and depressive symptoms — so these results may help scientists develop methods for earlier diagnosis and prevention.

Autoimmune and neurodegenerative diseases might be connected to gut microbiota, too. These diseases happen to be largely attributed to genetic predisposition and considered incurable. Recent research from Germany’s Ruhr University Bochum, however, suggests gut microbiota composition plays an important role. This raises hope for a cure.

Functional-medicine practitioner Terry Wahls, MD, is inspired — though not particu­larly surprised — through the findings. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease, she's managed her symptoms utilizing a self-designed diet and lifestyle program. (For more on the Wahls Protocol, see “The Care and Feeding of the Mitochondria”.)

“I am very excited to determine the basic research linking microbiome shifts to shifts in immune-cell activity and neuroinflammation,” says Wahls. “Finally, more scientists and neurologists are agreeing that diet quality and diet have a major impact on brain inflammation and possibility of future cognitive decline.”

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