The microbiome is the environment of bacteria that lives inside all of us- on our skin, in our guts and in every orifice. Each of us has a unique mixture of trillions of microbes. More and more, scientists are discovering that these ecosystems are linked to our health and can be set up at birth and beyond with the help of mom.
Microbes Sculpt Bodies
Immune systems are stronger when microflora are healthy. Studies in mice show that if they are brought up in a sterile environment (given sterile water and food and living in a bubble) many challenges occur- they do not have a balance of inflammation and anti –inflammation systems. The problems in these mice are seen in their bones, blood, blood vessels and even behavior. From these studies it is clear that microbes sculpt and shape our bodies.
Vaginal Births Set Up a Healthy Microflora
Scientists are discovering that infancy and birth are prime times to establish healthy microflora ecosystems. Take for example- birthing. Many studies show that vaginal births are better for the baby versus C-sections as the infant is exposed to maternal flora -coming from the sterile womb- and that helps them to build a unique and healthy microflora as they travel out into the world. That does not mean we all need to go through vaginal births as studies show that microflora does change and will set itself up over time to help develop stronger immune systems.
Breast Is Best
After birth, another important step to creating a healthy microflora is breast feeding. Breast feeding not only feeds the infant but builds up its microflora. Since breast milk has a wider range of sugars the bacteria in breast milk- B infantis has evolved to digest sugars with great efficiency. When mothers breast feed they feed a child’s gut cells which in turn help seal the lining of the gut and reduce inflammation.
Fecal Transplants Work
Many studies show that if patients are on long bouts of antibiotics they can get a bacteria in their gut which causes diarrhea called C-diff. This bacteria can be controlled with fecal transplants. Fecal transplants reset communities in the gut with healthier bacteria. Just injecting someone else’s healthy gut flora from stool can change an unhealthy microflora to a healthier one. Though gross to think about someone else’s feces in your intestines, pills don’t work but scientists are searching for easier ways to make fecal transplants happen.
Studies in mice also showed that fecal transplants can control weight. Obese mice were transplanted with the feces from thin mice. the one snafu was that the obese mice were not able to lose any weight unless they were also on a healthy diet.
The microbiome is essential to a strong immune system and sets us up to be able to balance the good and the bad bacteria in our bodies. Vaginal deliveries, breast feeding and fecal transplants have benefits to setting up a healthy microflora. However, we all have very unique microbiome environments and research is slow.
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Reference : Ed Yong (2016) I contain multitudes the microbes with in us and a grander view of life. Harper Collins, New York, NY.