Healthy guts are swarming with bugs, so what do they do?

Healthy guts are swarming with bugs, so what do they do?

'Our gut does more than help us digest food; the bacteria that call our intestines home have been implicated in everything from our mental health and sleep, to weight gain and cravings for certain foods. This series examines how far the science has come and whether there’s anything we can do to improve the health of our gut.

The healthy human body is swarming with microorganisms. They inhabit every nook and cranny on the surfaces of our body. But by far the largest collection of microorganisms reside in our gastrointestinal tract – our gut.


This genetic complement of the microbiota means it can do things other parts of the body cannot. Our microbiota provides digestive enzymes to allow us to use food that otherwise we could not digest. It provides essential vitamins we cannot make ourselves. And it interacts with our hormonal and neural systems to help shape our physiology.

Perhaps most important of all, it helps to develop our immune system to fight off bugs. The body must be able to distinguish between the beneficial members of the healthy microbiota and invading pathogenic microorganisms that can cause disease. The immune system has to learn to live with and nurture the microbiota while fighting off pathogens.' (My emphasis)

Robert Moore, Research Professor of Biotechnology, Head of Host-Microbe Interactions Laboratory, RMIT University, introduces this very interesting series of articles here:

With CLL, I suspect learning how to better look after our microbiome may have considerable potential to improve our quality of life, With our greater dependence on antibiotics, I expect we have a much lower microbiome biodiversity, making us more susceptible to a range of unpleasant conditions - including hard to cure C. difficile infections:

For further reading from 'The Conversation' writers on this developing field, check out the 'You might also like' suggestions at the bottom of the article.


Photo: A lone eucalyptus tree in a ploughed paddock. We've greatly reduced diversity in the environment by clearing land to grow monoculture crops, with this reduction in diversity having repercussions on the natural environment that are increasingly being recognised.

4 Replies

  • Very interesting! There was a good article in The New Yorker a few years ago that covered some of this:

    It sure does inspire me to eat a healthy diet.

  • Great find from 2012 Neurodervish! Some snippets that I particularly liked were:

    David A. Relman, a professor of medicine, microbiology, and immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine: "We have to stop looking at medicine as a war between invading pathogens and our bodies,’’... “This sort of stewardship has more in common with park management than it does with our current practice of trying, in the broadest way possible, to kill microbes.”


    Anyone with a vegetable garden knows that herbicides will make quick work of your weeds; but, used the wrong way, they will do the same thing to your food. Antibiotics, it has become clear, are herbicides for humans. Medically, they are absolutely vital—but they also can alter our internal ecosystem in ways, both big and small, that even a decade ago seemed unimaginable.


    Germophobia is big business in the United States: the market for antibacterial products—sanitizers, cleansing gels, cutting boards, and cotton swabs—grows larger every year.


    Eventually, it may become possible to restore the health of a depleted microbiome simply by swallowing a capsule crammed with billions of bacterial cells, or by eating yogurt. At the moment, however, not a single probiotic for sale in the United States has been approved as a drug; instead, probiotics are sold as dietary supplements or as foods like yogurt. This permits supplement manufacturers to make almost any claim about the benefits of the products as long as the packaging includes, usually in the tiniest possible type, this disclaimer: “These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”


    Fischbach said. “Right now, the standard for evidence is disgustingly low. If we expect the knowledge we gain from the microbiome to transform human health, that will have to change. If not, probiotics will be nothing more than snake oil.”

    Martin J. Blaser sums up the current situation well:

    “We are an endlessly variable stew of essential microbes,’’ he told me. “And they are working in ways we have not yet understood. Antibiotics are so miraculous that we have been lulled into a belief that there is no downside. But there is: they kill good bacteria along with the bad bacteria.” The implication is that good bacteria actually act as antibiotics—and are often more effective that those we buy at a drugstore. But the microbiome is never static or simple; often it’s a battleground between species. The difficult job of medicine is to control that battleground.'

    Enterotype research might be worth keeping an eye on.



  • I'm thinking of adding An endlessly variable stew of essential microbes beneath my name on my business card.

  • Neil...the photograph of the eucalyptus tree is simply stunning...and the colors take my breath away...thank you...nanno75

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