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The Microbes in Our Bodies are as Unique as We Are

Created by paustian on Aug 1, 2013, 2:45 PM


In a world of bacteria, the tiny microbes that inhabit the human gut can reveal a lot about an individual.  The human body houses such a high amount of microbes that it significantly outnumbers the number of human cells a person has.  Recently, scientists have sought to better understand the vast number of microbes in the colon, in order to use this information to better human health.

The American Gut Project is dissecting thousands of stool samples to truly understand what microbes exist in the colon, what each microbes function is, and how this information can be used to improve certain diseases linked to the colon.  In the midst of the project, research has shown that the microbes in the human gut are deeply connected to the health of each individual, linking type 2 diabetes, colitis, asthma, depression and weight gain to colon microbes. 

As scientists collect and analyze poop, they have found that no two people contain the same exact makeup of microbes.  The reason the gut microbes differ from individual to individual remains unclear.  However, there are some patterns that are emerging. To create a “supergut” of microbes, one should eat a diet rich in onions, garlic, and leeks.  Cooking vegetables al dente has been shown to increase microbe diversity because the body has to work harder to break down the food so more of that food ends up in the colon.  Like all other diets, the more diverse the plate is, the more diverse fiber that can be consumed, also leading to a healthy, diverse colon.  The scientists of the American Gut Project encourage everyone to get a little dirty and keep windows open, exercise outside and work in a garden.  Those who own dogs have more diverse microbes as well.  Exposure to these environmental microbes helps flourish the colon microbes.  

The study has found that some strains of bacteria play an interesting role in the colon.  Heliobacter pylori is an ancient bacteria that can not be classified as a good microbe nor a bad microbe. While H. pylori may be an increasing factor in colon cancer, it also protects from other forms of cancers, asthma and allergies.  In recent years, scientists are finding trends of H. pylori disappearing from the gut causing horrible side effects.  The disappearance of H. pylori is linked to the overuse of antibiotics.     

Originally scientists believed that after a round of antibiotics the gut bacteria would return and flourish.  However studies have found that good bacteria do not always return after a round of antibiotics.  More importantly continuous exposure, especially in the first six months of life, can lead to a higher BMI later in life.  

The scientists of The American Gut Project are hopeful for the outcome of their study.  The hope is that someday knowing and understanding the microbe makeup of an individual’s colon will make diagnosing certain diseases and treatment more beneficial.  The scientists hope to develop a way of treating an individual by treating their colon microbes.