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All Health's Breaking Loose: Latest Research on the Bacteria that Keeps You Going

July 05, 2012|By Loa Blasucci

We relate well to body markers we can see and quantify because they make sense. So, many fitness- related studies are focused on muscle, bone, endurance, and so forth. But there is a vital, essential feature about you that gets little credit. It’s not pleasant to talk about and not often studied—until now.

You are made of bacteria. It runs through you, around you and on your skin. While most of us come away from the thought of this—scrunching the nose saying “eew,” this is truly one the beautiful, remarkable functions of being human.

These “good” bacteria that number up to 100 trillion are very busy. They protect you from other disease-causing bacteria, stimulate your immune system, help with digestion and assimilation of nutrients. Basically, they keep the checks and balances of your system. Without these “good guys” you’d be dead in matter of hours.

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Recently the New York Times reported a new, long awaited, much needed study called the Human Microbiome Project. In this five-year study the newspaper explains, 200 scientists at 80 institutions sequenced the genetic material of bacteria taken from nearly 250 healthy people. And when they said “healthy,” they meant it.  In order to be considered as a participant, a person in what seemed perfect health might not qualify because of a mild skin rash or bad tooth. Many of the 600 they first recruited were turned away, but they gathered 242 men and women pinched, poked and checked all over, deemed totally free of disease in the nose, mouth, gut and, for the women, vagina.

The study generated 11,174 samples from gums, teeth, nostrils, tonsils, throats, stool, saliva, elbows and ears leaving no stone unturned. Curtis Huttenhower of the Harvard School of Public Health, an investigator for the microbiome project said, “They allowed investigators to see — through their unique DNA sequences — footprints of otherwise elusive bacteria.” He goes on to explain the “huge computational challenge” that this study created.

This study helped to put in place a much needed criteria for a healthy microbiome (or the bodies’ “gene world”) which hadn’t been thoroughly considered. This information helps us understand how antibiotics upset the microbiome, and precisely how probiotics enhance it. It gives us another look at the miracle of healing and recovery that take place within us at every moment.

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