The plagues of our modern society include diabetes, allergies, asthma, obesity, autism, and numerous digestive system disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease. The symptoms and difficulties inherent with each of these diseases is different. However, modern molecular biology research techniques have revealed a commonality. People with each of these ailments have a microbiome that is strikingly different from that of healthy people. Micro-bio-what? This blog, Mostly Microbes, explores the interactions between microbes and us, their human hosts. In particular, I focus on the importance of the human microbiome for and during pregnancy, birth, infancy, and early childhood. What is the microbiome? The microbiome is all the microbial cells living in a particular location . In the case of humans, the human microbiome includes over 100 trillion bacteria, viruses, and fungi that live in or on your body . Perhaps as much as ten times more microbes make up your body than human cells  (though new estimates  put the number of human cells at 3.72 trillion instead of 10 trillion). You are their home. You may have immediately thought “ew- I want to wash my hands now!”, but hold on a minute. The
We humans have been treasuring and using microbial “trash” for tens of thousands of years. We eat and nurture microbes for their waste products – yes, you eat microbial poop. Metabolic by-products or “waste” would be more appropriate to say in a classroom/polite company, but really – it’s just “poop”. Yogurt, sauerkraut, buttermilk, kefir, bread, beer, wine, cheese, even chocolate, and coffee – are all tasty to us because microbes have eaten the sugars in milk or some plant part. With the exception of corn, whatever you eat goes into your mouth in one form and comes out the other end in a totally different form. Same with microbes. Bacterial Poop: Sugars to Lactic Acid Bacteria like Lactobacillus sp. eat lactose milk sugars and poop out lactic acid. That’s why unflavored, unsugared yogurt is tangy and slightly sour. Same thing with the buttermilk I’ve been culturing recently. YUMMY. Other Lactobacillus sp. eat plant fiber sugars and poop out lactic acid to make sauerkraut and kimchee. Check out a yogurt experiment my girls and I did a while ago. Yes, the girls roll their eyes when I say that they are eating microbial “trash”. Fungal Farts: Sugars to alcohol and carbon
An open letter to Beyoncé wishing her and her family well as the twins meet their microbial partners for life. Dear Beyoncé, As you wait and prepare for the twins’ birth please don’t forget the invisible microbes that will protect, feed, and teach your babies for the rest of their lives. Yep, I’m talking about “germs” or more politically correctly – “microbes”. Babies are “microbe magnets”. Those first microbes that baby encounters become their microbes for life. They are stuck together – life partners in sickness and in health. What’s cool is that these microbes are security guards keeping away diseases, chefs chopping up food to feed baby, and soothing Jedi masters who teach baby’s immune system what to kill and what to ignore. In my grandmother’s day, people in developed countries died from communicable diseases – polio, mumps, measles, yellow fever. Diseases that are spread from person to person by sneezing, coughing, or spread by insects, like mosquitos. Today people die from non-communicable diseases – diabetes, allergies, asthma, autoimmune diseases, and more. Our diseases today aren’t due to specific microbial pathogens. Vaccines, handwashing, clean water, sewers, and antibiotics keep these easy-to-spread microbial diseases at low numbers. Instead, today’s diseases
Your Baby’s Microbiome: The Critical Role of Vaginal Birth and Breastfeeding for Lifelong Health summarizes the latest scientific research on the benefits of vaginal birth and breastfeeding to an infant’s microbiome. Written for childbirth educators, doulas, midwives, lactation consultants, and interested parents, Your Baby’s Microbiome is packed full of detailed information on the microbial and epigenetic differences between vaginal and c-section births. For the parent debating between a scheduled c-section or vaginal birth – this book is a must read. Your Baby’s Microbiome provides all readers with the latest science – straight from the researchers – on how vaginal birth and breastfeeding are thought to influence gut microbiome establishment. Sticks to the Data I greatly appreciated the restraint of the authors in discussing areas like water-birthing and in-caul births, where the research has not been done. They make it extremely clear that the research hasn’t been done, but then do provide thoughtful ideas from the data currently available. I find this extremely important for such a rapidly developing science. Perhaps the reason Your Baby’s Microbiome doesn’t over-reach is because the book was written from interviews with the scientists done for the documentary Microbirth. “The movie had to have one central message and we
“Hey Professor Microbe” – the text from my next-door neighbor read – “What probiotics are better for me to buy, the ones on the shelf or the ones that are refrigerated?” Professor Microbe (Anne @mostlymicrobes): “Why are you buying probiotics?” Neighbor: “General gut health” PM: “Don’t! Spend the money on PRE-biotics – fruits, veggies, and live fermented foods.” Probiotics are quite the established health fad with over 36.6 billion USD in sales in 2015! WOAH! In general, we don’t need them. The average person who eats a healthy diet full of fruits and vegetables feeds their own personal “probiotics” in their digestive system, primarily the large intestine. Feed what you have. Think whole grains and “Eat a Rainbow” of different colors and kinds of plants. My favorite gut microbiome-food book talking about good eating and the gut microbiome is The Good Gut. For an idea of what my family and I eat, check out my Instagram feed or #feedthemicrobes. “When should a healthy person take probiotics?” Pretty much just after taking wide spectrum antibiotics. These antibiotics kill many different kinds of bacteria – invading pathogens and your native microbes (tetracyclines, cephalosporins, aminopenicillins (ampicillin, amoxicillin)). For people with medical issues, I
Happy 2017! My top 5 New Year’s Resolutions to help me, myself, and my microbiome. Your health is intertwined with health of the microbiomes in and on your body. As a mom of 2 young kids, wife, daughter with aging parents, blogger, and scientist, I have a bad tendency to take care of everyone else but me. “On an airplane in the event of an emergency we’re told to put on YOUR oxygen mask first, then the mask of the small child next to you”, a super-insightful, fellow science-mom friend reminded me. But if I’m not functioning, I can’t help everyone else well. Same goes for my microbial partners. If they aren’t fed and functioning well, they aren’t doing their jobs well and helping keep me healthy. Here’s my New Year’s Resolutions for me and my microbes. 1. Eat (even) More Plants! Gut microbiome studies continue to show that there are few types of microbes in the guts of people with diseases ranging from irritable bowel syndrome to Parkinson’s disease. Higher diversity, more different types of bacteria, is correlated with better health and a more plant-based diet. “What did you feed your gut microbes this meal?” I’ll ask the kids (and myself).