Microbes and Health Part I: A Look Down The Microscope.
By Farhana Rahman
Let Them Eat Dirt
Currently I’m reading a fascinating book, called Let Them Eat Dirt by Dr B Finlay and Dr MC Arrieta to shed some light on the ‘microbiome’, what it is and how it affects our health. Published just last year and packed with evidence-based research and observation, it is an excellent read. We all harbour bacteria in and around our bodies and until recently this was considered a bad thing. But the tide is turning. So can bacteria be good? Increasingly we hear words like ‘gut health’ and ‘gut flora’ but what exactly is this about? Over the next couple of posts, I write about what I’ve learnt and bring you the deets, in bite sized chunks. Amazon link below!
But first, what is a microbe?
· Microbes are the smallest known forms of life and comprise bacteria, virsues, protozoa.
· The Earth’s microbes weigh more than all the animals and plants on our planet combined.
· We are all absolutely covered in microbes from the moment of birth – for every cell in our body, there are 10 bacterial cells inhabiting us.
Gross, get it off me!
Not possible, I’m afraid. Unlike the invisible friends of our childhood (just me?) these unseen friends are here to stay. But before you douse yourself in alcohol gel in a kind of ritual cleanse, it turns out this is not necessarily a bad thing. Yes, microbes can be responsible for serious and life-threatening infectious diseases and over the last century, medical advances have meant that dying from a microbial infection is a rare occurrence.
“...only about 100 species of microbes are known to actually cause diseases in humans; the vast majority of the thousands of species that inhabit us do not cause any problems, and in fact, seem to come with serious benefits”
As the rate of infectious diseases thankfully declines, we are now increasingly afflicted by illnesses mediated by the over or under functioning of our immune systems. Over the last couple of decades, scientists have been exploring the connection between the rise in chronic diseases (including asthma, obesity and allergies) to our decreasing exposure to microbes, termed the Hygiene Hypothesis. Factors like the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in our food and overuse in health care are just some of the issues at hand. Add to this our obsession with anti-bacterial cleaning products, gels and wipes and our increasingly urban lifestyles and it seems we may be doing ourselves more harm than good when we try to clean up our acts.
Look out for part II, where we delve into the mechanics of the Hygiene Hypothesis and how to get smart about living in peace with our microscopic friends.
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