Microbial balance

Microbes are microscopic organisms, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses. The word microbe used to be a term applied mainly to bacteria which cause disease and most microbes have been regarded as pathogenic. In just two or three years this view has totally changed, as research in many different areas has revealed the extent to which we rely on the microbial community for huge areas of our basic functioning.

  • Most of our microbes live in our gut, which is often referred to as the “second brain” because it has its own nervous system that can function separately from the brain. Gut bacteria programme the body’s immune system, regulate digestion and metabolism and produce and extract vitamins and other nutrients from our food. They also protect our system from invaders and maintain a healthy gut wall by producing antimicrobial chemicals to deter harmful microbes.
  • Scientists now conclude that gut bacteria can manipulate our behaviour and mood by sending signals to the brain through the vagus nerve, maybe even change our behaviour to suit their needs. They can produce chemicals that make us feel rewarded or feel bad about ourselves, control how much we eat and influence us to eat the foods they need to thrive. Animal studies indicate that they can also create anxiety and depression.
  • Researchers have also found that this interaction is a two-way street, and our brains can have a powerful influence on how well our gut functions. Even mild stress can deplete beneficial bacteria in the gut, for example, allowing harmful microbes to thrive. This can make their host more susceptible to inflammation and infection and cause a number of other chemical reactions which will, in turn, affect the functioning of the central nervous system.
  • The gut microbe community in our bodies is known as the microbiome and it is now clear that the balance of the microbiome is vital for healthy human functioning. Research now suggests that imbalances in the microbiome early in life can result in damage to metabolic and immune system development which is not resolved simply by establishing balanced gut flora later.
  • Caesarean births prevent the normal transfer of maternal microbial cells to populate the baby’s gut. Research now indicates that this may affect the baby’s development because there should be a match between our genes and the bacterial colonies which grow in our gut and the microbes most closely matched to our genes have the strongest influence on our well-being. This problem can be easily rectified by introducing vaginal material immediately after the birth.
  • The use of antibiotics perinatally or in the early years can also prevent a healthy microbiome establishing and there is strong evidence now that antibiotic use in children up to six months leads to obesity in later life. Farmers in the USA actually feed antibiotics to healthy cattle to help them put on weight.
  • Imbalances in the microbiome are associated with a host of metabolic and immune system dysfunctions. These include eczema, asthma, allergies and food intolerances; weight issues such as obesity or an inability to put on weight; emotional issues such as stress, anxiety and depression; inflammatory responses such as irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis; auto-immune responses involving chronic inflammation or demyelination; even cognitive dysfunctions such as poor short-term memory and disorders such as autism. Much of the damage to our population of friendly microbes is caused by modern diets. Our ancestors ate a huge variety of natural foods which supported the multitude of different microbial populations which are the hallmark of a healthy gut. Now we eat a much narrower range of foods and many of those are processed or laced with chemicals which kill off many of the communities in our gut that we rely on for healthy functioning. In a recent experiment, just ten days on an exclusive junk food diet was found to wipe out 1,300 species of bacteria, more than a third of the normal gut population.
  • Human cells work in a complex partnership with microbial cells and the number of bacterial cells almost exactly matches the number of human cells, to the point that just one trip to the toilet can tip the balance in favour of human cells. People are beginning to realise now how important it is to have a microbial balance that is exactly right for them and to avoid being manipulated by microbes which do not have their interests at heart.
  • All our programmes have been developed to work with the full complexity of human processing and target both human and microbial systems. For this reason many of our clients notice their food choices changing and develop a healthier relationship with food, particularly once emotional stress factors are under control. It is important to choose a diet which includes a wide range of natural foods and avoids foods and additives which are actively harmful to a healthy gut population. However, unhealthy microbes are highly manipulative and driven to maintain their position, so for many people it can be helpful to have the support of our programming in this process.