Jonathan Eisen has given an illuminating TEDTalk that will make you put down the hand sanitizer. We are covered in a cloud of microbes and these microbes actually do us ted talks on parenting much of the time rather than killing us. Fun microbe fact: the average healthy adult has 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells.
So what good things are these microbes doing for us? The oodles of microbes that live on and inside us protect us from pathogens simply by taking up space. By occupying spots where nasties could get access to and thrive, good microbes keep us healthy. It’s sort of like how having a nice ground cover around your house can prevent weeds from taking over.
Researchers at Loyola University demonstrated in a 2010 study how Bacillus, a rod-shaped bacteria found in the digestive tract, bind to immune system cells and stimulate them to divide and reproduce. The research suggests that, years down the road, those with weakened immune systems could be treated by introducing these bacterial spores into the system. Microbes protect us from auto-immune diseases. I looked like a famine victim with an unquenchable thirst. Because microbes help train the immune system, if the microbiome is thrown out of whack, it can alter the body’s ability to differentiate between itself and foreign invaders. Microbes play an important role in our body shape by helping us digest and ferment foods, as well as by producing chemicals that shape our metabolic rates.
It seems that disturbances in our microbial community may be one of the factors leading to an increase in obesity. Microbes detoxify and may even fight off stress. Just as humans breath in oxygen and release carbon dioxide, microbes in and on us take in toxins and spare us their dangerous effects. A recent study also shows that people feeling intense stress have much less diverse bacterial communities in the gut, suggesting that there is a not-yet-understood interplay between microbes and stress responses.
Recent studies have shown that babies born via caesarean section have very different microbiomes than those born the old-fashioned way. Because during the birthing process, babies are colonized with the microbes of their mother, especially substances that aid in the digestion of milk. It’s clear that microbes have major implications for our health. And yet, much more research needs to be done to determine what different microbes do, and whether their disturbance causes ailments or is simply correlated to various health issues.