The Gut: What We Thought We Knew

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Bacteria at Birth Not What we Thought

Bacteria at Birth Not What we Thought

Science Got it Wrong - Our “Birth” Bacteria isn’t Everything

We owe a lot to our gut bacteria.
All that stuff living in our intestines is there to help us live and eventually, we may come to rely on the knowledge of that understanding to diagnose and cure diseases.
But, it turns out, we don’t know the whole story.

We’ve spent years learning the importance of the tiny organisms living in our body called microbiome.
And in the last few years, what we’ve discovered has gained loads of attention.
Our gut is filled will trillions of bacteria and organisms that are single-celled (think protozoa and archaea organisms).
It’s thought that they actually outnumber the number of cells that make up our bodies.


We have an ecosystem living in our bodies, just like a pond full of fish and we give great respect to the amount it influences our health.


According to the Human Microbiome Project, An animal’s heart health and behaviour as well as its immune system is completely impacted by its microbiome.
It’s been widely believed that breastfeeding has a great effect on these microbiomes, as does birth itself.
There’s been an outcry against caesarean sections because there’s been an associated risk of obesity, immune conditions and asthma that researchers believe could be avoided through vaginal births.
When the child passes through the birth canal, it receives its mother’s microbes that it uses to protect itself.
The same is true with breastfeeding.

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The Bristol Poo Chart

The Bristol Poo Chart

However, new studies show that the effects of this transfer don’t last as long as we once believed.
There have been studies conducted on more than 1,000 people by the the Flemish Gut Flora Project (FGFP).
The Project published its results in Science, the journal.
One of the study’s authors, Dr Jeroen Raes, said, “We studied the microbiota of adult individuals in Belgium.
It’s one of the largest studies worldwide.”
What they discovered through extensive research on adults who had been born using the caesarean technique, is that there’s no difference in the variety of microbiomes from adults who were born vaginally.
They conducted the same study on adults who’d been breastfed and those who hadn’t and found very similar results.

Raes said “There’s very little evidence that the microbiota was different in adult age.
We were surprised by that.
Everyone assumes your microbiota is determined at birth, but we didn’t see that.”
At Imperial College of London, a biochemist named Dr Julian Marchesi studies the microbiome of humans, though she wasn’t involved in this study.
Her understanding is that the results make sense: “I know that [early-life events] have an impact in the first couple of years of life, and maybe the first five years.
But when you get on to solids, and start interacting with other people, it seems like early life events get wiped out.”
We aren’t denying the good effect these things have though.
Raes said, “It’s still very possible that early-life events can still affect your health in important ways.
This result doesn’t mean that they don’t have a strong effect at a young age, when you’re a baby.
“And that could maybe have long-term effects on your health and your immune development.”
While he thinks more research is needed, Marchesi agrees: “We’re struggling to find out the consequences of early life events on later life.
Autoimmune diseases seem to be impacted by the microbiome, and how the body reacts to infection.
But that early-life window, we don’t know the significance of it for cognitive development, immune development, and so on.”

Bacteria in our Bodies

Bacteria in our Bodies

What does affect the microbiome in adults (like the drugs we take) is actually quite interesting.
Raes says, “The use of drugs is important.
Taking medication, e.g.
laxatives and antibiotics, affects your microbiome.
Hormones as well.
That’s interesting because there’s been very little research on this before now.”
A lot can be said about our poo, too.
Another thing that was found through the study was around the diversity of gut flora being depicted by different types of stool.
Using the Bristol Stool Chart they could see that higher number scores usually meant a lower number of diversity in the body.
Why is it so important? We may be able to use this in future diagnoses.

Raes says, “The reason this is so important is that the microbiome could be used as a future diagnostic.
It could allow the diagnosis of autism, Parkinson’s, Crohn’s.”
We need to first understand what a normal microbiome looks like and so far, we don’t.
The study has assisted in taking the next step towards that, as the researchers found over 600 families of bacteria.

Raes went on to say, “It is one of the major research questions we were after, and to my frustration we haven’t answered it.
I was hoping to be able to say ‘The healthy microbiome looks like this,’ but it wasn’t so simple.” The group hopes to examine an additional 3,000 people, leading to what Raes hopes will be more developments.

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