If you research the question: How many cells does the human body contain, you’ll find a good number of answers. They are, of course, simply estimates. I’ve heard 5 billion, 100 billion, 200 billion.
A reader sent me a great article published in National Geographic. It was written by Carl Zimmer, a distinguished science writer. In the article, he tells of group of scientists who, wanting to come up with a definitive number, decided to scour all of scientific literate that even leaned toward making some kind of count: counts of organ cells, bone cells, and other tissues. They found quite a bit of research on the subject, including a report in which someone had estimated there were 2 billion cells alone in our heart’s muscle.
The number they finally arrived at, still just an estimate, is 37.2 trillion cells. [How Many Cells Are In Your Body?]
Now that’s big. And considering that each cell has a huge number of processes going on inside it at any given time, there are more things going on in your body right now than there are stars in the universe.
I’ve pointed this out previously, so that couldn’t possibly be the reason for this paper. The reason for this paper is:
THERE ARE AT LEAST TEN TIMES THAT NUMBER OF BACTERIA (viruses, fungi, yeast, and protozoa) LIVING INSIDE OUR BODIES.
Cool, eh? Oh, and don’t forget the multi-celled microorganisms living on us. They’re quite fascinating too.
Bacteria have had a bad rap over the years. Once they’d been discovered, suddenly they were responsible for every disease and scourge to befall the human animal, when, all along, they’d been living peacefully, for the most part, with us for millions of years.
A team of researchers at NYU discovered 182 different species of bacteria living in the skin alone, 8 of which were unknown. [Human Skin Harbors Completely Unknown Bacteria (originally published at NYU School of Medicine and we just love it when they remove our references)] The lead researcher, Dr Martin J Blaser now estimates that there could be 500 different species living in our skin.
Research into the variety and extent of bacteria living in our bodies has challenged medicine to look at disease in a different light. Previously, a specific microbe was responsible for a specific disease, whereas as a result of these studies, researchers are currently examining the “shifts” in microbial population, and comparing them between healthy and diseased subjects.
Suddenly “disease” takes on complexities never before considered. Even more stupendous is that the concept of disease has undergone the greatest change in just over one hundred years. [Humans Have Ten Times More Bacteria Than Human Cells: How Do Microbial Communities Affect Human Health?]
However, don’t expect to see any headlines soon. Not only is the research still in its infancy, the rulers of the kingdom of medicine (pharmaceuticals) don’t have anything to sell us … yet.
One conclusion we can come to is that, for the most part, we’re living in a huge, balanced, symbiotic relationship with bacteria (our microbiome), and it is this balanced relationship that keeps us healthy. When one group’s numbers begin to expand while others begin to shrink, then scales start to tip toward the side of illness.
This is often the case with our gut bacteria. Women often report that after taking antibiotics, they acquire yeast infections. Your author has personally come down with an eye infection following a round of antibiotics.
And get this: antibiotics given to livestock cause them to gain weight.
Perhaps this is just one more reason to re-examine our use of antibiotics, for if we are re-examining our take on the cause of illness, it makes sense to re-examine our cures.
Of all the processes in the body, digestion is the largest. It uses up the most energy and the most resources, and when it comes to energy and resources, we have a limited amount. Energy going into digestion doesn’t go into your immune system.
This is one reason people fast when ill. We cut the energy to digestion so it can be used by the other systems to fight off an illness.
If you’ve ever owned a dog, you might know that the first symptom of the dog being ill is a loss of appetite. Animals know instinctively to stop eating when ill.
The role of bacteria in the digestive system is often overlooked. We know that probiotics take a beating from antibiotics. We know that livestock gain weight on antibiotics. And now there is research to show why.
At the Washington University School of Medicine, they discovered something absolutely flabbergasting.
Knowing from previous studies that the digestive systems of obese people harbor less diverse microbes, a tiny study was designed to learn even more about gut bacteria and weight control.
Two groups of young mice were used in an experiment. Both groups had been raised germ-free.
A researcher took gut bacteria from obese (human) individuals and transplanted the microbes into the intestines of one group, and then took gut bacteria from lean twins (humans, again) and transplanted that into the intestines of the other group.
The mice with the transplanted bacteria from the guts of the obese person began gaining weight (along with symptoms of other unhealthy metabolic changes) even though they did not eat more food than the other set of mice with the microbes from the lean twins.
Next, all the mice were then put together into the same cages. Mice are filthy creatures that poop anywhere and then wallow around in it. The researchers knew they’d be exchanging germs. Eventually bacteria from the lean mice invaded the intestines of the fat mice and vice versa.
Now get this: The fatter mice’s metabolism improved, while the thin mice weren’t affected. And the fatter mice also did even better if they were given a high fiber diet with a bit less fat. [Makeup of an individual’s gut bacteria may play role in weight loss, Mayo study suggests]
The obvious conclusion is we must keep our gut bacteria diverse and healthy.
It’s been theorized for some time that probiotics have a beneficial effect on weight loss. One Japanese study concluded that: “The probiotic LG2055 [Lactobacillus gasseri] showed lowering effects on abdominal adiposity, body weight and other measures, suggesting its beneficial influence on metabolic disorders.”
Another study, this one out of Canada, showed that Lactobacillus rhamnosus administered over 24 weeks in both obese men and women showed very significant results, but only in the women (over the women in the control group). Men didn’t fare better, but in women, the results were quite remarkable in helping hem to “achieve sustainable weight loss.”
A French study published in the British Journal of Nutrition showed that probiotics [Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum], in both rats and humans, decreased stress-induced gastrointestinal discomfort, and overall levels of stress and anxiety. What does this have to do with weight loss? It lowered the stress hormone cortisol, which is responsible for stubborn belly fat.
Incidentally, the only probiotic reviewed by Consumer Lab to have all of the above mentioned probiotics (except Lactobacillus helveticus) is made by Swanson’s: Ultimate Probiotic Formula. And the price is, as always, very reasonable.
You can always take a probiotic supplement. Simply the Best used to carry iFlora products (but the company was bought out, lots of changes, and suddenly nobody was ordering), so now we have an affiliate program with Swanson Health. Their flora products are wonderful and they have a huge assortment to choose from. Just remember to take them on an empty stomach a half hour before taking any food.
Another method is good old yogurt.
Another is from salt free fermented foods such as kimchee . Kimchee was actually used in the Orient to fight off bird flu.
Your gut microbes feed off of everything you eat, but to specifically feed them, I recommend resistant starch. A nice green banana, or baked slices of sweet potato that have been cooled. Click here to read the article: Resistant Starch.
And surprisingly, there are recent studies that show that red wine also promotes the growth of good bacteria. (Published in the American Journal of Nutrition).
In the end, the researchers found that both types of red wine produced improvements in the bacterial composition of the gut, lowered blood pressure and reduced levels of a protein associated with inflammation. Slight improvements in gut flora were seen among gin drinkers, but the effects in the wine drinkers were much more pronounced. [Really? Red Wine Is Good for the Stomach ]
And chocolate feeds your good bacteria as we point out in Chocolate — Would you believe it’s health food?
So, to sum it all up: We have ten times more bacteria than cells in our bodies that live symbiotically with us and it is called out microbiome. And they all need to live in balance and harmony, because when they get out of whack and our health falls apart, resulting in illness, weight gain, and/or mental health issues.
Microbiome: actually this is more than just the bacteria we live with in and around our bodies. First, it consists of microbes (among which bacteria are in the greatest number. However, our complete microbiome consists of bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeast, and protozoa (single celled lifeforms), and — this is important — their genetic material.
Everybody on earth should know about probiotics, the “good” bacteria in our gut that helps us digest our food, but they do so much more. And all together our microbiome “regulate our immune system, protect against other bacteria that cause disease, and produce vitamins including B vitamins B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and Vitamin K, which is needed for blood coagulation.” [Ref]
They are not invaders. We live in harmony with them; a symbiotic relationship, one in which we help each other. They help us (with everything we’ve mentioned above—and more! And we give them a home and sustenance.
More from The Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, University of Washington:
Autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are associated with dysfunction in the microbiome. Disease-causing microbes accumulate over time, changing gene activity and metabolic processes and resulting in an abnormal immune response against substances and tissues normally present in the body. Autoimmune diseases appear to be passed in families not by DNA inheritance but by inheriting the family’s microbiome.
It is a balancing act. And it seems that antibiotics, though the miracle cure of the forties and fifties, seems to not be the great miracle drug of the 20th century it was thought to be, because health and wellness is not about attacking both the good and bad bacteria, but rather attacking specific parts of our microbiome that have gotten out of hand.
It is all about balance.
There is much more research to do in this area, but for now, if we can care for our gut’s bacteria, we will be on the safe side of health and wellness.
Here is a movie that will tell you more, shock you a bit, but you’ll never forget about your microbiome again.
In 2013, Jon Stewart had Dr Martin Blaser (referred to above) on his Daily Show, and Blaser has a book out called: Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics Is Fueling Our Modern Plagues. Amazing book and I highly recommend it.
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