Microbes and Health Part II: Microbes ‘R’ Us

By Farhana Rahman

Man in Haz Mat Suit

Photo by Gabriel Gurrola on Unsplash

In part I, we broke down some terminology and touched on how we’re changing our tune when it comes to thinking about our microscopic life partners


How do I live without you? 

Turns out, when it comes to microbes – we can’t.  This is what I’ve been learning from the excellent read, Let Them Eat Dirt, by Dr Finlay and Dr Arrieta.  Interestingly, various studies have shown the presence or absence of certain types of bacteria within us -particularly in early life - to correlate with the development of certain illnesses.  Which then begs the question, can bacteria be good for us? 

Well in short, yes.


The evolution of the immune system.

The authors tell us in fascinating detail how from the moment we leave our mothers’ largely sterile wombs, we are quite literally bombarded with microbes.  For millennia, humans have evolved to withstand this onslaught and to use it to our advantage.  An infant’s budding immune system matures and develops through exposure to a vast and diverse collection of microbes.  When the immune system meets a new pathogen (a disease-causing microbe), it responds by making the infant ill.  Thereafter it commits it to memory so that next time the body can try not to get sick. However, the majority of microbes the immune system will meet are harmless and through some kind of biological magic (i.e we don’t know how), the immune system will tolerate it, chill out and live and let live.


The Hygiene Hypothesis

The Hygiene Hypothesis, touched on in the previous blog post, proposes that in recent years the lack of this microbial exposure (for example, through hygiene practices, antibiotic overuse amongst others) has resulted in people having poorly developed immune systems which are unable to tell friend from foe when it comes to microbes.  Consequently, there is growing consensus that this has given rise to the increase in immune-mediated conditions that are so prevalent today e.g asthma, diabetes, allergies because the aforementioned poorly developed immune system reacts willy-nilly all over the shop when it encounters a harmless microbe, triggering an inflammatory response instead and causing a widespread unnecessary response in body instead.

So what can we do?  Read part III for tips to ensure we can stay safe and healthy with our microscopic chums.


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Here’s a link to this fascinating read and let us know what you think!