What is the inner ecosystem?
Simply put, the inner ecosystem can be described as the balance of good and bad bacteria inhabiting the digestive tract.
This balance is absolutely essential to proper digestion and overall health and well-being.
Let me repeat, a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut is essential to optimal health!
In his book, The Probiotics Revolution, Dr. Gary B. Huffnagle, Ph.D. states, “This role is so fundamental to our health that I now think of the microbes in our intestines as an organ, comparable in its effects and importance to the other major organs such as the heart, lungs and kidneys”.
Huffnagle goes on to point out his astonishment at how well Chinese doctors from centuries ago “knew that the intestines were not merely a digestive organ, but the center of health and well-being”.
Did you know that we have over 400 different species of bacteria living in our gut? In fact, the microorganisms living inside us weigh over 3 pounds.
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The symbiotic relationship between humans and their beneficial bacteria is emphasized by the fact that while the immune system jumps into attack mode at the first sign of pathogenic invasion, it leaves the “good guys” alone.
Early civilizations understood the importance of beneficial bacteria. That is why they insisted on giving fermented foods rich in lactobacillus and bifidobacteria to the elderly, the ill and especially to nursing mothers.
Under normal circumstances, the inner ecosystem is established at birth, as the mother transfers her balance of beneficial bacteria to the child through amniotic fluid in the birth canal, and later through the rich colostrum supplied through breastfeeding.
However, even when the inner ecosystem is properly established, there are many factors today that adversely affect the natural balance of bacteria in the gut such as diet, antibiotics and other drugs, and environmental toxins.
As the balance of bacteria is disrupted, so is digestive health.
Each year millions of Americans are diagnosed with digestive disorders ranging from indigestion and diarrhea to more serious conditions such as crohns disease and colorectal cancer.
Think of all the commercials you see on television advertising some new drug that combats diarrhea, constipation, bloating, indigestion or other symptoms associated with poor digestion.
These drugs are not the solution, and in fact often make the problem worse. Not only does the marketing encourage us to continue eating the greasy burger, fries and milkshake that feed harmful bacteria in our gut, the drugs themselves often come with negative side effects that can add new undesirable symptoms.
Most importantly, the root of the problem, a disrupted inner ecosystem, is not addressed.
It is only through the re-introduction of essential beneficial bacteria and real dietary changes, that the balance of the inner ecosystem can be restored.
Continue on for articles offering a more detailed look at the establishment of the inner ecosystem and proper digestive function.
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How Bacteria Boost the Immune System
Bacteria has been our friend for thousands of years and is crucial in our survival!
Scientists have long known that certain types of bacteria boost the immune system. Now, Loyola University Health System researchers have discovered how bacteria perform this essential task.
Senior author Katherine L. Knight, PhD. and colleagues report their discovery in a featured article in the June 15, 2010, issue of the Journal of Immunology, now available online. Knight is professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.
The human body is teeming with bacteria. In each person, there are about 10 times as many bacterial cells as human cells. Bacteria live on skin, in the respiratory tract and throughout the digestive tract. The digestive tract alone is home to between 500 and 1,000 bacterial species.
While some bacteria cause infections, most species are harmless or perform beneficial functions, such as aiding digestion. These beneficial bugs are called commensal bacteria. One of the most important functions of commensal bacteria is boosting the immune system. Studies by other researchers have found that mice raised in sterile, germ-free environments have poorly developed immune systems. But until now, scientists have not known the mechanism by which bacteria help the immune system.
Knight’s lab studied the spores from rod-shaped bacteria called Bacillus, found in the digestive tract. (A
spore consists of the DNA of a bacterium, encased in a shell. Bacteria form spores during times of stress, and re-emerge when conditions improve.) Researchers found that when they exposed immune system cells called B lymphocytes to bacterial spores, the B cells began dividing and reproducing.
Researchers further found that molecules on the surfaces of the spores bound to molecules on the surfaces of B cells. This binding is what activated the B cells to divide and multiply. B cells are one of the key components of the immune system. They produce antibodies that fight harmful viruses and bacteria. The findings suggest the possibility that some day, bacterial spores could be used to treat people with weakened or undeveloped immune systems, such as newborns, the elderly and patients undergoing bone marrow transplants. In cancer patients, bacterial spores perhaps could boost the immune system to fight tumors. However, Knight cautioned that it would take years of research and clinical trials to prove whether such treatments were safe and effective.
Knight’s lab at Loyola is supported by two research grants, totaling $3.3 million, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Members of her research group are studying how intestinal microbes interact with the host and promote the development of the immune system. Knight also is principal investigator of a $963,000 NIAID training grant in experimental immunology that supports research stipends, supplies and travel to professional meetings for PhD. students in the basic sciences at Loyola.
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