Tag Archives: childbirth

C-sections, Immune/Autoimmune Disorders, the Microbiome and Why You Should Read The Symbiont Factor!

The lowly microbiome appears to be capturing an ever-increasing audience in the news these days. This explosion of new knowledge about our microscopic symbionts and how they contribute to who we are prompted me to write The Symbiont Factor. It has been exciting to see the continued flow of news stories that support and contribute to the concepts I wrote about in my book. This article is about one of those concepts and recent news that supports it.

There are many aspects to how the microbiome is crucial to human function, with one of the most significant involving the immune system. Our human immune system depends on the microbiome for its early development, as well as continued “target practice” to maintain its functional accuracy throughout life. This is one reason that the diversity and integrity of the human microbiome in the first few years of life is of such crucial significance. If the microbiome is lacking in diversity or imbalanced in some other way, the immune system will not develop normally. The result is often a lack of specificity, with many body tissues falling prey to friendly fire as the immune system begins to mutiny against the body and autoimmune disease manifests.

The newborn baby receives a huge dose of gut bacteria “starter culture” from the mother during normal childbirth. Children born via Caesarian section  (“c-section”) do not receive this gift of microbiome, instead developing a microbiome characterized by the interior of the hospital room. Recent studies suggest that newborns are not born sterile and may receive some bacterial symbionts prior to birth, yet this is a small amount compared to that received from vaginal birth.

A large, long-term study was recently completed in Denmark to evaluate whether being born via c-section resulted in increased incidence of autoimmune disease. The study spanned 35 years and included 2 million individuals, providing substantial support for the different outcomes from birth methods. The researchers found an increased incidence of several autoimmune diseases in those who were born by c-section compared to those born via vaginal section. The researchers did not claim that the different outcomes were a result of differences in microbiome, yet the study does lend considerable weight to that argument! It is the largest, longest-running study yet published showing different health outcomes for the two birth methods. Other studies have already established the connection between altered infant/early life microbiome and a variety of chronic health conditions. Many of these are discussed in The Symbiont Factor, and I’ve included some references below as well.

If you were about to have a baby and had to choose a hospital (with a safe outcome being your top concern) would you choose a hospital that provides free or low-cost care to an indigent or poor population? Surprise! that hospital might actually be safer. San Francisco General is just that hospital, and boasts a very low rate of c-section (and great outcomes). Why would that be? This article identified one major difference: SFG has its physicians on salaries, so they make no additional money if they perform a c-section than if they help a mother deliver naturally. In addition, they are not on a “time-table” to complete a delivery during their shift, as they lose no income if the next physician does the delivery instead! It has been estimated that many (potentially more than half) of all c-sections are not medically necessary and are instead performed for convenience. This is not necessarily the convenience of the mother, but often that of the physician as the example above illustrates. If you’re a physician, please don’t take that personally-just contemplate how it would be if your paycheck never changed regardless of how many procedures of any kind you performed. It might actually be less stressful!

Once again, the microbiome seems to be central to human function and health. If the microbiome is compromised, then problems result-making it extra critical for us to learn the signs of dysbiosis (imbalanced microbiome), what can be done to ensure its health, and how it affects us physically, mentally, and emotionally. All of these concepts and more are discussed in The Symbiont Factor, and referenced with 1327 references-most of them from peer-reviewed professional journals. Now is the time to learn about symbionts and their powerful influence on our lives, so check it out!









Mood: Does it affect gut symbiont health and intestinal function?

flow chart stress intestinal function inflammation

What are the causes of dysbiosis and resultant dysfunction/disease? One cause that seems to be greatly underestimated may be simply our mood! Human beings, having been gifted with large frontal lobes, are capable of experiencing and expressing a variety of moods. Our bodies respond to these moods with different functional states, some of which have been categorized. These are “fight or flight (or sometimes, fight/flee/fortify)” or “wine and dine”.  There are many more physiological functional arousal states that we could elaborate on, but many of them could make this blog post NSFW. We’ll just assume that your imagination can fill in the blanks with how the body responds to the mind! With the brain-gut connection in mind, and being also cognizant that it’s a two-way street since the gut influences the brain, what would be the influence of stress? One that comes to mind right away is a reduction in gut motility. This changes the environment in which the microbiome exists, and will change the demographics of the microorganisms. What about the effects of peristalsis on the small intestine? If there is less peristalsis, wouldn’t it make it easier for colonic organisms to migrate to the small intestine? If transit times increase, different stages of food digestion could release different nutrients, feeding different organisms. When do we cross from fermentative to putrefactive dominance? Using one of the concepts in The Symbiont Factor, this two-way function of gut/brain/gut axis can cause a positive feedback loop. If gut organisms that flourish during emotional stress can also alter neurotransmitter function at the brain, wouldn’t that predispose the brain to perceive stress following stressful events? What if that is why sometimes after a stressful day we just have more stress, no matter what happens? It is as if our very perception of our environment is vulnerable to plasticity. If this is allowed to happen without our conscious intervention (things like deciding to meditate or do some yoga even though you’re angry) the combination of evoked brain plasticity with gut symbiont evolution could be what makes it hard to shake off stress! Ironically, this same plasticity is probably an evolutionary advantage, allowing genetic selection of the microbiome on an ongoing real-time basis to adapt to circumstances. The problem is that our modern circumstances provide constant chemical and emotional pressure to this system, resulting in “learned dysfunction” of both the gut and the brain!  This highlights the importance of “mental housekeeping” and lifestyle choices in determining our “perceptual future”. If you don’t want the world to seem as stressful, start taking care of mind, body, and symbiont health!

The Symbiont Factor is now a paperback, available on Amazon!

After a year and a half of having a second job as a new author, my first book is finally available in print! A comprehensive, thoroughly referenced guide to how our gut bacteria influence physical and mental health: The Symbiont Factor is now available on Amazon as a paperback! If you ever wondered if and why probiotics are healthy you should read this book. Please share with your contacts 🙂     http://tinyurl.com/pe2g4xt

How Women can Reduce their Susceptibility to Sexually Transmitted Diseases, Including HIV Infection!

Did you know that a woman’s microbiome, her resident population of symbiont bacteria, plays a critical role in her susceptibility to sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection? How could bacteria protect a person from disease? If you would like answers to questions like this one, check out my newly released book, The Symbiont Factor. Find it here: http://amzn.to/1jz3kPt

The Symbiont Factor is now Published!! Live on Amazon!

Today is the day I finally got to click on the “submit” button and make my book available on Amazon. After a year of hard work writing and making edit corrections, it’s done!  A print copy will be available soon-for now only the e-book version is available.

Here is the link to the book on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1jz3kPt

Autism, Gut Bacteria and the HPA Axis-What is the connection?

The HPA axis is not a part of the body that is often discussed. It is a functional “axis” that is used to describe the relationship between three parts of the body: the Hypothalamus, the Pituitary gland, and the Adrenal glands. All three of these organs have critical functions with far-reaching implications for physical and mental health. Many psychiatric drugs have been found to affect the HPA axis, resulting in the therapeutic benefit of the drug. Imbalances in HPA function have been implicated in a wide array of neuropsychiatric conditions including in autism. The gut microbiome, gut bacteria, exert control over the development and function of the endocrine hormone system, in particular the HPA axis. Why does this matter? Because imbalances in gut bacteria can therefore result in imbalances in HPA axis development in early life-and this imbalance has the potential to make the person develop autism (as well as other problems in different individuals). It is important because the gut bacteria are so vulnerable to birth practices (c-section vs. natural), antibiotic use, antibiotics in food, pesticides, herbicides such as RoundUp, and even stress levels perceived by the individual. Higher stress is harmful to the gut bacteria through alterations of the digestive functions, secondary to autonomic nervous system imbalance (more sympathetic, or “fight-or-flight”, function).  Many of these are factors under our influence if not control! Gut bacterial populations are one of the most variable factors in human health, and yet one of the most neglected. My work on The Symbiont Factor is my contribution to spreading knowledge about the gut microbiome, so that more people can take control of their health and more conditions like autism can hopefully be prevented or successfully treated. The book is being configured/edited/reconfigured/formatted so that it works well on all Kindle download platforms, a task that is keeping me quite busy the last two weeks! Almost there, almost there…It will be so exciting when it is finally published! The book will also be available as a print format following its release as an e-book. Until then, stay tuned in and take care of your gut bacteria!










And, best of all, a slide show from one of the head researchers in the field, Ted Dinan: http://www.genome.gov/Multimedia/Slides/HumanMicrobiomeScience2013/33_Dinan.pdf


Symbiotic Gut Bacteria and The Meaning of Life. How Does it Feel to be 1% Human?

The last decade of research has advanced the understanding of life itself to such a degree that our definitions of “life” must now be adjusted. Until now, you may have regarded yourself as a singular entity; a “human being,” a “person” or just “me.” All of these terms indicate a belief system grounded in what is now an outdated concept. What if we were actually a cooperative group of organisms existing together for mutual benefit? Trillions of organisms, all sharing physical space and each contributing to the functioning of the whole. What if even our very consciousness were not a singular thing or the result of one personality, but more of a democratic/summative system or even a type of hive consciousness? All of these are functional realities to one extent or another. Oh, and one more thing…those human cells? They are in the minority and are outnumbered at least 10:1. Well, you might be thinking, a human being is defined by a specific genetic code, 23 pairs of chromosomes, a little over 21,000 genes that code for everything we are, right? Not so fast! Genes do encode for the protein molecules that carry out life functions, but if a person were to develop with only those 21,000 genes the brain, nervous system, immune system, endocrine and digestive systems would not develop or function normally at all. So where does all the other information come from?

“We” are an organism that includes several trillion symbiont organisms that all contribute genes. In fact, looking at a person from head to toe genetically reveals that the human genes are only 1/100th, or 1 percent, of the genes present. The majority of the remaining genome is bacterial in origin. We are only 1% or less human from a genetic standpoint! Scientists and researchers now know that the human body depends on this bacterial genetic reservoir of information for normal development and function. The human immune system, for example, is cultivated by the bacteria and “taught” how to function, what to kill and what to tolerate. Without this ancient genetic wisdom (bacteria have existed for an estimated 2 billion years) the human immune system does not function normally. Our brain is no different; without bacterial symbiont assistance the human brain is emotionally and functionally unstable. The result is an inflamed brain, anxiety and depression or schizophrenia, and an increased likelyhood of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or neuroimmune conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis. The digestive tract would not function normally either! Even our mind, that last refuge of a singular “self,” is not the result of a singular organism’s activities. Dominant colonies of bacteria wield significant influence on our mood, decision making and basic personality. Our appetite for specific food items as well as our overall appetite is heavily influenced by gut bacteria. Neurotransmitters that determine mood are both produced and consumed by the gut bacteria, exerting influence over mood. Neurotransmitter receptor sites in various specific areas of the human brain are sensitized or desensitized by symbiont bacteria. The result is a distinctly different emotional profile and personality! It is truly the result of the interactions of many organisms.
Our human parts in turn “farm” these bacterial colonies to keep them viable and performing their needed tasks.

The terms that have been coined for these concepts refer to “us” as Holobionts-a host plus its symbionts form the organism we call “human.” The total gene pool within the holobiont is called the Hologenome. All other eukaryotic life is thought to exist on the same principle of cooperative function between host and symbionts. The bacterial symbionts are capable of influencing mate choice, reproductive success and driving speciation to create new species from existing ones (really.)

After re-reading the previous discussion, you might be incredulous that life itself has been essentially redefined, and yet it did not really result in significant changes in healthcare practices. This is perhaps the most promising yet overlooked, proven yet controversial new development in decades. Healthcare is replete with legions of “singular organism, flat-earth-society” members who are slow to accept this new concept despite its promise of more effective interventions. As examples of the conflicts in logic that result, consider the following questions-each of which may be the subject of another blog post and are written of in The Symbiont Factor.

-If the body is dependent on symbiont bacteria for normal function, what is the result of taking antibiotics?
-If antibiotics are added to our food, what is the effect on our own personal hologenome?
-If food is routinely disinfected, what is the effect on hologenomic diversity?
-What are the long-term consequences of bacteria sharing plasmids (DNA fragments) that code for antibiotic resistance?
-If symbiont bacteria maintain immune system function, why do we kill them in cases of infection or cancer, when the immune system is needed the most?
-If so much physical and mental function depend on gut bacteria, why do we not evaluate the gut bacteria when something seems physically or mentally dysfunctional?
-Where do all of these symbiont bacteria come from in the environment?
-What is the effect of chemical environmental pollution on the potential microbiome?
-How does nutrition affect their population demographics?
-If two people have differing microbiomes, would a given medication affect them differently?
-Do different birthing and childcare practices affect the hologenomic outcome?
-If the bacterial symbionts have such an influence on human emotion and personality, why is this not addressed in psychology and psychiatry practice?
-How does being a holobiont with such a diverse colony of bacteria provide an evolutionary or competitive advantage?

As we move forward into the 21st century, we must strive to add holobiont concepts to the practice of healthcare and teach individuals why “taking care of yourself” might need to become “taking care of each other.” Perhaps better pollution control, for example, would be more meaningful if people understood that it isn’t only to save some small toad that lives far away, but also to save the bacterial diversity that our future depends on. Perhaps parenting practices would mean more when the importance of imparting a beneficial microbiome/hologenome to our children is better understood. These concepts form the basis for The Symbiont Factor, referenced with more than 1300 peer-reviewed research papers and due to be published by 15 June 2014.