Sunday, June 24, 2012

The human microbiome

Aspects of this topic keep coming up.  The "human microbiome" is the sum of all the things that live in and on us.  I saw a book years ago called "Life on Man".  I learned that there are critters of various types living on and in me.  I was a bit creeped out by the ones who live in my eyelashes.  

After I had surgery to remove some of my colon, I stopped experiencing gut pain from diverticulitis.  Diverticula are bulges that cheek out from one's large intestine and are shaped in a way that causes backups of food in those pockets.  Then, infection sets in and the situation can become very serious.  I had instances of this problem for 30 years.  As I aged, I realized that if I was going to try surgery to correct the problem, I had better get to it.  The surgery helped enormously.  Then, I got to thinking.  If those pockets developed before, what if they do again?  I saw a specialist who said one thing that can help is crowding the gut with beneficial bacteria to the point that the baddies have little or no room to flourish.  I took Culturelle and have lucked out so far.

We are both excited by chapters in "The Autism Revolution" explaining the benefits that some kids have experienced by really avoiding the cheap white foods (processed crackers, breads, pizza, etc.) and getting lots more fruits and vegetables. The author Martha Herbert, MD, PhD, is a Harvard research and clinical pediatric neurologist.  She emphasizes the importance of our "gut bugs", the bacteria in our digestion system that make our digestion possible.  

Then, I saw  this recent article by the science writer Carl Zimmer emphasized the growing set of research efforts and discoveries that related to the life in and on us.  I know that Zimmer writes for Discover magazine and has books on many different aspects of science.  He writes a blog.  He has just come out with a book "Planet of Viruses" on exactly that subject.  I've heard that viruses are sort of 'semi-alive' and are simpler than bacteria but that's all I know until I get his latest read.

On a related subject, Jeff D. Leach writes about the need to get more dirt and germs into our diets.  He writes that it seems possible that allergies and some sensitivities come from too much really clean food and too little contact with germs our bodies need to meet.  Leach credits the surge in farmer's markets with counteracting this problem somewhat.

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