I’m on the plane flying home from our AAOSH Annual Scientific Session, and my mind is once again blown. The science and applications of health and wellness continue to improve and hone in on ways that allow us more and more insight to simple things we can do to live long and live well.
I feel so grateful to belong to an organization like AAOSH, whose mission is to improve the health and wellness of our country. One of the ways it does so is through education of our membership, so that we can deliver this information to our patient population. In doing so, we have a positive impact on the health of our communities.
This year’s meeting had a special focus on the human microbiome , as well as genomics. I found both topics to be fascinating.
Today, I want to focus on the human microbiome.
There are trillions of microscopic organisms (bacteria, fungi, bacteriophage, protozoa, and fungi) in our bodies that make up the human microbiome. These organisms call our human bodies home, and they outnumber our cells by a factor of 10 to 1. The human body (and all of its parts) is regulated in major ways by this microbiome.
These microorganisms live symbiotically in and on our bodies (we are their host), which means they benefit from living in and on us and at the same time they deliver benefits to our health and well being. An example is the good bacteria lining our digestive tract. After we eat and our bodies break down our food, the bacteria lining our gastrointestinal tract are able to feed on the smaller food products. These bacteria stay alive because of this, and in return they break down the products into byproducts (some of which are basic human nutrients). The bacteria then deliver the nutrients to the lining of our GI tract for us to easily absorb and utilize the nutrients. We benefit the good bacteria, and the good bacteria benefit our functions for life and health.
If our microbiome is made up of bad organisms (like pathogenic or bad bacteria instead of – say – good bacteria), then our bodies are damaged and develop poor health and disease. A simple example of this is when you “catch” a cold, the good bacteria lining your nose, sinuses, and lungs are overtaken by bad bacteria/virus and your body responds by secreting mucus (runny/stuffy nose/ congestion/cough) and perhaps heat production (fever to try to kill off the pathogens).
Without getting too much more scientific, our human microbiome communicates with our human cells, and in many cases tells our humans cells what to do and how to function. This more complex role of the microbiome is fascinating. If the mircobiome is healthy, then it is programming our human cells and functions to be healthy. Scarily, the converse is true as well.
The human microbiome is physically present throughout our bodies (we used to think it lined only our skin, mucosal linings and digestive tract), and it communicates (and in many cases directs) how our bodies are to function. For these reasons, science shows us it is of utmost importance to keep our microbiome healthy. The latest medical research reveals the microbiome to be one of the most important aspects to our health.
One of the scariest insights to all of this is the broad use of antibiotics over the past century. Antibiotics do not know the difference between good and bad bacteria. They kill all bacteria, which means they completely disrupt our microbiome. Certainly during the course of antibiotics, we can expect a disruption in healthy communication between microbiome and healthy human function. And, after the microbiome is disrupted and killed, with what will it be replaced? How can we ensure healthy mircoorganisms will replace what was lost? Obviously, there are life- and limb-threatening infections that must be treated with antibiotics.
The mouth itself is colonized by a diverse microbial community of 700 species but it can also contain bad bacteria that needs to be treated. For example, a dental abscess can trigger a fatal heart attack so it must be treated swiftly. The treatment protocol would likely include a round of antibiotics. Fortunately, dentistry, like medicine, has made great advancements and we have other options outside the realm of antibiotics to treat these infections. Look at ozone (hyperlink to ozone blogs), for instance. Ozone will kill an infection without the risk of antibiotic resistance, and combined with an appropriate probiotic (microbiome re-implantation), a healthy microbiome can be re-achieved.