What Role Do Bacteria Play in Our Bodies?
|Q&A with Dr. Highlander|
Before birth a baby has no bacteria but acquires them at the moment of birth from the mother’s vagina or, in the case of a Caesarian birth, from the mother’s skin. In fact, babies born by Caesarian are deficient in many species of bacteria. Babies also acquire more bacteria from breast feeding. The end result is 100 times more bacterial cells than human cells in an individual.
Different bacteria reside in different areas of the body and each individual has a signature profile of bacteria. These bacteria perform specific and important functions in each area of the body.
In the digestive tract bacteria:
- Aid digestion by fermenting polysaccharides
- Contribute essential vitamins
- Contribute short chain fatty acids that curb inflammation
- Process bile acids
- Aid in the development of immunity
- Protect from invasion of pathogenic bacteria by forming a mucus barrier
In other words, we could not live without these fellow travelers. And the balance of the bacteria in any given part of the body is critical. A healthy individual has a perfect balance of the different bacteria and the functions they perform. When this balance is tipped, an individual becomes ill and many of the functions listed above suffer. Thus, sequencing the microbiome can be a useful diagnostic and will likely become more common.
|Clostridium difficile illustration |
property of the CDC
Finally, Dr. Highlander discussed two disease entities with genetic predispositions: IBS (including both Chrone’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis) and Celiac Disease. In both cases there is a decrease in bacterial diversity and an imbalance in bacterial strains including an increase in E. coli. These observations may ultimately guide researchers to better therapies for these diseases. The future appears to lie in “personalized bacteriotherapy” in which each patient would be treated with the bacteria that are out of balance.
In what is jokingly named the "icky month" at the Foundation, where coincidentally for the past couple of years we have had experts talk about our gut health during our summer lecture, Dr. Highlander did not disappoint! The novel approaches to keeping our gut healthy will indeed keep on leading the path to personalized medicine.
About the Doris A. Howell Foundation:
The Doris A. Howell Foundation for Women’s Health Research is committed to keeping the women we love healthy, advancing women’s health through research and educating women to be catalysts for improving family health in the community.
The organization does so by funding scholarships to scientists researching issues affecting women’s health; providing a forum for medical experts, scientists, doctors, researchers, and authors to convey the timely information on topics relevant to women’s health and the health. of their families through its Lecture and Evening Series, and by funding research initiatives that will create women’s health awareness and advocacy in the community.