It’s a Bacterial World, and I Feel Fine

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There are 10 times more bacterial cells living in you than human cells. Put more bluntly, you are more bacteria than you are human.

Freaky? Not really. Oddly enough it should be comforting! These beneficial bacteria are like the fortress walls around a castle – if they weren’t there then the real bad guys would just waltz on in, and ruin your day, every day.

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This rabbit hole goes much, much deeper though. It turns out that each of us has a unique bacterial ecosystem called an “enterotype”, which can have profound implications for susceptibility to various diseases, and proper, individualized nutrition.

We are all unique snowflakes in more ways than we could have imagined just 10 years ago – this is truly the frontier of science.

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Like Alice’s adventure, it gets intensely interesting and odd.

Babies born by Cesarean Section have higher incidences of asthma and allergies as compared to natural birth.

A natural birth coats the babies skin and GI tract in the mothers microflora where C-Section birth leaves the newborn devoid of these microorganisms.

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The Bronx Zoo in New York City is among the largest zoos in the U.S. It houses ~650 species on 265 acres, but inside the 27 feet of intestines tucked neatly in your abdomen there are ~900 different species of microorganism. Just as most zoo patrons come for a few main exhibits, there are just 3 species that dominate your gut community.

Because of this each person is said to have one of 3 enterotypes. The enterotype is determined by which species of the 3 (Prevotella, Bacteroides or Ruminococcus) is pre-dominant, even though all, and many more, are present.

Prevotella digests carbohydrates and simple sugars and is often pre-dominant in agrarian societies; Bacteroides enterotypes are associated with animal proteins, aminoacids and saturated fats, components typical of a Western diet.

Enterotypes are very fluid, and change with diet over time. If a person has eaten a mostly carb based diet for an extended period, and abruptly shifts to an animal protein based diet they will experience negative side effects. If dietary change happens gradually, then the guts microbiome can smoothly adjust its population.

An abrupt change in diet, like the crash diets so popular in the U.S., can leave the body starved of several beneficial metabolic “waste” products produced by the these bacterial communities.

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This science is in its infancy, but it is likely that different enterotypes are suited for different lifestyles – an olympic athlete may want to develop one enterotype while training, and adjust to another before competition.

Recent findings strongly indicate that certain diets and medications can disrupt the flora of your gut causing increased susceptibility to Type II Diabetes, Celiac’s Disease, allergies, immune deficiencies, asthma, and potentially a host of other disease states.

The study of enterotype specific disease states is currently more speculation than science. Over the next decade many startling revelations will surely emerge, but for now conclusive evidence is a dream, not a reality.

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