Our bodies have the highest density of microbes known on Earth. The bacteria in and on our bodies are represented by 3.3 million genes. The numbers of genes in these organisms far outnumber the number of human genes in our own bodies. Samples from 124 healthy Europeans found on average more than 530,000 unique genes in each sample, with 99.1% of the genetic material coming from the bacterial cells.
While we provide bacteria with food and lodging, they provide benefits to us, including helping to digest food, breaking down toxins, and providing some of our nutritionally essential vitamins and amino acids.
There is significant cross-talk between our microbial populations and our immune system and this relationship is an important contributor to our health. Not only do immune cells regulate the balance of the types and numbers of bacteria, but also the types and numbers of bacteria affect the workings of the immune system, especially its inflammatory responses.
Dr. David A. Relman of Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA found that when people take bacteria-killing antibiotics, the microbial ecosystem that returns, is different from the microbial population that existed prior to taking the antibiotics. Moreover, if the same antibiotic is taken again, even 6 months later, bacteria populations take longer to return, and the bacteria are even more different than the original spectrum of bacteria that had existed in the gut.
Dr. Relman says, “Everything comes with a cost,” he said. “The problem is finding the right balance. As clinicians, we have not been looking at the cost to the health of our microbial ecosystems.”*
Additionally there is a problem of the interaction of intestinal microbes with medications. Over 40 different medications can be activated or inactivated, depending on the microbe. This event influences one’s response to medication.
Many people take supplemental probiotics, beneficial gut bacteria, with the hopes of changing their intestinal ecosystems. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that organisms in probitoic mixtures do not become established populations in the gut, and that they only last for a relative short period, or while the ingestion of the probiotic continues.
Once again, the importance of balance in the body is paramount. Considering that over 75% of the immune system is represented in the gut, immune balance, inflammatory homeostasis, helps the body provide natural resistance to disease. If the immune system is not functioning properly, if it is in disorder, the physical and emotional aspects of our life and health will be out of balance and in disarray.
A body in immune homeostasis is able to respond appropriately to challenges by either “boosting” the “fire power” of an inflammatory immune response to “burn out” an infection, or suppress an inappropriately excessive immune response to the challenge. The key is to maintain immune and digestive homeostasis.