Monthly Archives: March 2014

How the Microbiome Influences Lung Health and Function

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Lungs: it’s easy to take them for granted, isn’t it? Yet, if we can’t breathe, nothing else really matters. Our lungs depend on normal mucus production for protection from bacteria and viruses and as a cleaning mechanism. Dust, pollen and foreign microbes become adhered to the mucus, and microscopic hairs called cilia constantly move the mucus upward where we can either cough it out or swallow it without really realizing it. Smoking, incidentally, stops the cilia for several hours-which is the reason for a “smoker’s cough” in the morning. The cilia have just started to clean out the lungs. That first cigarette shoots the garbageman so that he leaves the trash on the doorstep. Our lungs also depend on the immune system for protection from harmful bacteria and inflammatory response to injury. Too much or too little of either function results in problems. It has been known for some time that the human immune system is quite dependent upon the bacterial microbiome of the intestines for its development and function. The gut is home to more bacteria than there are people on the earth and these bacteria are the microbial drill sergeants that develop and instruct our immune system from birth. There exists a constant cross-talk between the gut bacteria (the microbiome) and the human immune system. What has more recently been discovered is that each area of the body has its own local microbiome, similar to different neighborhoods in a big city. The lung, long thought to be sterile beyond the bronchi, has proven to have its own microbiome as well. This population of symbiotic bacteria maintains the integrity of the mucous lining, guards against invading forces of pathogenic bacteria, and communicates with the intestinal microbiome to keep the immune system alert but not overactive. As in many things, when all is well nothing is obvious. No news is good news, right? The gut symbionts keep the immune T-regulatory cells active to monitor and limit inflammation, in particular Th17 helper cells that affect lungs. If the gut bacteria fail due to insufficient numbers or imbalance, Th17 levels can rise and result in airway inflammation, constriction, wheezing, asthma or vulnerability to infections. One of the factors that makes the microbiome more powerful and effective is species diversity. You see, each of these body regions and the whole body is in effect an ecosystem. These ecosystems are vulnerable to the same laws of biology as a forest, lake or swamp: a loss of species diversity reduces adaptability and increases vulnerability to destructive forces. Things that reduce the diversity of the human microbiome include stress, chemicals in food (such as sucralose/Splenda), immunoreactive foods like gluten that cause intestinal inflammation, excess consumption of foods, sweets/sugar, chlorine in water, antibiotic use, pollution…an extensive list that defines a health or unhealthy diet and lifestyle! In the lungs, a loss of species diversity results in decreased adaptability to changes in air quality and temperature, exercise and stress. Loss of diversity leaves gaps in defenses that can permit an opportunistic pathogen a chance to thrive and cause an infection. What can be done about it? Relaxation, breathing exercises, healthy/clean diet (organic or homegrown pesticide-free fruits and veggies), eliminating sweets and soda from the diet, reducing stress, sleeping enough, taking probiotics, eating probiotic foods such as kefir, yogurt, kombucha, homemade sauerkraut and similar fermented foods. Trying to do all of these things early enough as preventive measures may head off problems that would otherwise require antibiotics and cause a major loss of diversity and all of the problems listed above. For extreme cases, evaluating the immune system for food sensitivities can help avoid the consumption of food ingredients that cause a system-wide inflammatory response that is harmful to the microbiome. Restoration of a damaged microbiome can be accomplished! As in many tasks, however, to accomplish a restoration requires first stopping the destruction. Or, the person who wishes to climb a mountain must first stop digging a hole!

All of the concepts presented here are central to The Symbiont Factor, which will be published the second quarter of 2014.

References for this article:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24460444

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24591822

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24592323

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24614401

Testosterone Maintained at Youthful Levels by Probiotic Bacteria

Probiotics and Testosterone: Helping to Maintain Youthful Levels of Testosterone and Testicular Size

A recent study of mice (with parallel implications for humans) has shown that Lactobacillus reuteri, a common probiotic bacteria, induces a youthful testosterone level during aging. As many are all too well aware of, typically testosterone levels drop as men get older, beginning with *gasp* age 18-20. Really doesn’t seem fair, does it? “Low-T” as it is sometimes called results in hypogonadism (it, ummm, makes your privates smaller!) less muscle mass, bone density, energy level and other undesirable effects such as loss of motivation or “drive.” Unfortunately simply injecting medical testosterone has unwanted side effects and is not really a solution for most men. This study demonstrated that boosting levels of a probiotic, beneficial symbiotic bacteria resulted in youthful levels of testosterone, sperm counts, sperm health-in other words, it blocked the effects of aging on this system! Guys, I don’t need to tell you just how good that news is, right? It is one more example of how our bodies do not work as well without the symbiotic organisms it depends on. Things work better with good gut bacteria! Now the question is how to introduce these symbionts into the body and how to maintain a healthy population. That is one of the main reasons for the upcoming book, The Symbiont Factor! The easy part is finding L. reuteri, the hard part is maintaining a good “growing environment” for the symbionts and feeding them properly. Apparently it is worth it-if we take care of them, they take care of us!
Here is a link to the study: http://1.usa.gov/1eXwF1z

Human Brain Development Depends on the Bacterial Symbiont Microbiome. Or, We Are What We Are Because of our Bacteria!

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One of the key concepts that I have written about in The Symbiont Factor is the influence of the bacterial microbiome on the brain. There exists two-way communication between the gut and the brain-and the bacteria in the gut use this communication to influence the brain. In particular, the type of bacteria (how many of what species, beneficial or harmful) determines many aspects of how an infant’s brain develops. This means that if there are insufficient beneficial bacteria, the baby’s brain will not develop to its full potential, potentially resulting in behavioral disease, mental illness or other problems. The question is then what determines the bacteria that populate a baby’s intestines? That is where it gets interesting! The “starter culture” comes from the mother, during vaginal (and not c-section) birth. Breastfeeding is the second probiotic delivery system. What the mother eats during pregnancy, how stressed she is, and many other factors before and during breastfeeding will determine the bacterial symbionts that are available for the baby. Any interventions such as drugs during childbirth, antibiotics in the first five years of life, imbalanced diet that includes high levels of gluten and sugars-all of these are very harmful to the bacterial microbiome. The significance is not that a child might get a cold or similar issue, but that not cultivating a vibrant beneficial symbiont population will fundamentally change who that child is and what they become as an adult! Personality, mood, drive, ambition, intelligence, emotional balance-all are a result of the brain development that occurs during the first five years. What happens when an infant is born via c-section? The baby begins life with a microbiome characteristic of skin, which means far fewer species of beneficial bacteria. If the child is not breastfed, this imbalance is worsened. If the baby is given sweet and sugary drinks, it gets worse. If there is frequent emotional stress along with typically poor nutrition, the microbiome will not develop fully and neither will the bain. This can continue to reproductive age, resulting in an inter-generational worsening of the microbiome. It is important to realize the implication here: “We” are Holobionts; an organism that consists of a host plus all of its symbiont organisms. When the symbionts are imbalanced, so is the host. When the symbionts are not present, part of the Holobiont “whole” is also missing and this results in mental and physical decline. The Symbiont Factor is about how symbionts help us, and what goes wrong without them-and what to do about it! Our lack of proper care for our symbionts could threaten the future of Humanity as subsequent generations do not develop sufficient symbionts to attain their potential. “Think Global, Act Local” in this case means taking care of your health and your symbiont health!

Loss of Gut Bacteria Results in Anxiety due to Changes in Brain Function

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Recent research studies have demonstrated that there is a high level of communication between the gut and the brain. This communication arc has been termed the Gut-Brain Axis. The bacterial microbiome that exists within the human colon consists of a higher number of bacteria than the population of human beings on the planet. This bacterial colony communicates with the brain, influencing neurotransmitter receptor sites and modulating brain activity. One of the pathways that is affected by the intestinal microbiome is the HPA axis. This functional axis links the Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal glands to provide regulation of stress responses and other important functions. If the colony consists of predominantly beneficial symbiont organisms, the result is balanced and “normal” function. Conversely if the colony is ruled by non-beneficial organisms, or has been reduced in population due to antibiotic exposure, the result can be brain dysfunction. A study being published next month in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology studied the effect of a loss of gut bacteria on behavior in rats. The researchers found that the absence of the intestinal microbiome resulted in anxiety through dysfunction of the HPA axis. The genetic expression in the hypothalamus and hippocampus were altered, as was the Dopamine activity in the frontal lobe, hypothalamus and striatum. The significance of these changes is not only that gut bacteria help prevent inappropriate anxiety, but also that the microbiome wields influence over the function of multiple areas of the brain. Alteration to these parts of the brain has the potential to fundamentally change personality and behavior. This is yet another study documenting the importance of cultivating and developing a healthy colony of beneficial symbionts. The concepts explained in the research study are central to the theme of The Symbiont Factor, adding to the already expansive pool of knowledge documenting symbiont effects on human physical and mental health and function. 

Link to study mentioned: http://1.usa.gov/1ptZHrg

New Research Shows Probiotic Bacteria Reduces Heart Damage and Heart Failure Following Heart Attack

New research published online last week in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Heart Failure demonstrates the use of a strain of Lactobacillus rhamnosus (a probiotic organism) to reduce heart damage and failure following myocardial infarction. The study was authored by Xiaohong Tracey Gan and the research team and was performed on laboratory rats used in cardiac research. Typically, following loss of blood flow to the heart muscle from coronary artery occlusion, the left ventricle begins to enlarge or hypertrophy. This enlargement of the heart eventually leads to heart failure as the enlarged muscle does not have an adequate blood supply and becomes very inefficient at pumping (ejection fraction is the measure of the heart’s efficiency). The researchers found that L. rhamnosus reduced the hypertrophy, helped prevent heart failure, and preserved ejection fraction compared to the control animals that had myocardial infarction but not the probiotic. The ratio of leptin to adiponectin concentration in plasma is a measure of atherosclerotic plaque formation, and was elevated in control animals with myocardial infarction but not in those given probiotics; the administration of Lactobacillus rhamnosus prevented this increase. This indicates a reduced tendency to form plaque and continue to occlude arteries and have a second heart attack. The researchers state that the results show promise for the use of probiotics as a therapy for myocardial infarction. That is a fascinating conclusion, and begs the question: since probiotics are devoid of harmful side effects, why wait till after a heart attack? It interesting to see medical research validating natural and alternative healthcare methods and naturally healthy practices. This study is another compelling piece of the puzzle that demonstrates how probiotic bacteria are of vital importance to human health! Here is a link to the study: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24625365

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Introduction to The Symbiont Factor Blog

Hello, and welcome to The Symbiont Factor blog! I will be writing about everything related to gut bacteria, symbiont organisms, probiotics, health and related issues. There will also be links to pertinent or interesting articles and posts by others, including recipes and nutritional concepts, plans and ideas to improve health through symbiont concepts.The inspiration and theme for this blog is derived from the upcoming book, The Symbiont Factor written by yours truly, Richard Matthews DC DACNB. This book will be available in the second quarter of 2014. It is very comprehensive in nature, delving into an assortment of human ailments to better understand what role symbiont health plays. All concepts presented are heavily referenced; there are over 1000 research references from National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health indexed peer-reviewed publications.

The concepts explored in The Symbiont Factor are:

1. Human beings are hosts to a colony of trillions of bacteria that are beneficial symbionts. Their cells outnumber ours by 10 to 1, and their genes outnumber ours by at least 100 to 1.

2. The Human immune, nervous, and endocrine (hormone) systems are dependent on these bacteria for normal development from birth, and dependent on them for normal function throughout life.

3. The human body is an ecosystem for these symbionts, and as such there exists a biologic competition between beneficial and harmful species. Any loss of biologic diversity or change in bacterial demographics can allow non-beneficial and harmful species to bloom.

4. Modern lifestyles, foods, drugs, radiation exposures and pollutants are extremely detrimental to beneficial symbionts.

5. Beneficial symbionts can be restored to normal levels and increased diversity through lifestyle and dietary change, fermented foods and probiotic supplementation.

6. Humans are so dependent upon this population of beneficial symbionts for normal physical, mental and emotional function that we should be considered Holbionts. A Holobiont is an organism that consists of a host plus all of its symbionts.

7. Our species may not be able to reach our full physical and mental potential without embracing the concepts of the Holobiont, symbionts and their importance to our function!

Please stay and make yourself at home! We are at an exciting time in science and health-every day there are more studies published and articles written demonstrating the nature of the relationship between humanity and the bacterial world. I hope you will stay and enjoy learning with me!

Richard Matthews DC DACNB