Coming up on Health Trip, Monday 30th January @ 10.30 (EST) – looking at naturopathic ways to have a healthier gut after the excesses of the holiday season. Get you digestive track back into shape with western herbs, a practical and delicious diet and of course a few commonsense lifestyle tips.
In the meantime check out this item from The Age
Gut check finds plenty of bacteria
January 23, 2006 – 2:14AM
Scientists have discovered that the human stomach – a nasty, highly acidic place – is home to a surprising variety of bacteria, including a close relative of a bug that lives in radioactive waste sites, hot springs and animal poop.
In samples from the stomach linings of 23 people, they found at least 128 different types of bacteria, 10 per cent of them previously unknown.
They also found that the mix of bacteria varies greatly from person to person, and that conventional tests for Heliobacter pylori – a germ that causes ulcers, stomach cancer and other gastric distress – failed to identify it in 7 out of 19 people.
The report in the online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences lends weight to the view that microbes are a vital and intrinsic part of the human body.
“We are at a period of time that’s very exciting, where we can have a much more transcendent view of ourselves as life forms,” said Jeffrey I Gordon, director of the Center for Genome Sciences at the University of Washington in St Louis, who was not involved in the study.
In that view, he said, people are “superorganisms” made up of human cells and microbial cells – and the microbes outnumber our own cells 10 to one.
The study also overturns conventional wisdom about the stomach. With its strong acids and enzymes for breaking down food, it was thought to be a barren, almost sterile place where no respectable microbe would choose to live.
The stomach was considered “an acid waste pit,” said Dr David Relman of Stanford University and the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, who was part of the study led by research associate Elisabeth Bik.
“It would burn you if you stuck your finger in something that strong.”
He said the discovery of bacteria that cause ulcers, which earned Australian scientists Barry Marshall and Robin Warren this year’s Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, did little to change that view because those germs were thought to have unique ways of coping with the stomach’s harsh environment.
Relman’s lab is one of a handful probing the microbial ecosystems of the human body.
Scientists have known for years that bacteria in the gut – known as the intestinal microflora – help us digest food. Taking antibiotics can kill off this microbial community and cause digestive misery.
More recently they’ve come to suspect that other parts of the body have their own natural blends of microbes; that throwing this balance off-kilter can cause illness; and that chronic infections could contribute to diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, atherosclerosis, chronic prostate infections and bowel inflammations.
In April, a study led by Dr Paul Eckburg of the Relman lab found 395 species of microbes living in the human colon. Most of those bugs were unknown to science. Some cling to the intestinal wall; others hitch rides on bits of undigested food, forming colonies that researchers jokingly called “Whovilles,” after those in the Dr Seuss book “Horton Hears a Who!”
The lab is now looking at bacterial communities in the mouth, taking samples from the gums, the top and bottom of the tongue, teeth and palate. It’s also investigating the role of microbes in Crohn’s disease, a chronic bowel inflammation.
And it’s probing the question of where people get their distinctive microbial mixes: Why, for instance, are the communities in the mouth different from those in the esophagus, which in turn are different from those in the stomach or gut?
Other labs are investigating bacteria of the esophagus, vagina, skin and even earwax.
Comment: In the naturopathic world we have long suspected that Helicobacter pylori is not the bee all and end all when it comes to a well functioning stomach. Our slant focuses more on how to create the right environment for the plethora of beneficial bacteria to grow, rather than just shooting down the bad guys when they appear.
Can’t wait til the earwax results get published!