The Microbiome-Health Connection

Reprinted with permission from Experience Life Magazine.
By Pamela Weintraub

An out-of-whack microbiome — the community of bacteria, viruses, protozoa and fungi that live in our bodies — can spell disaster for our health. Here are just a few conditions that can result.

Sinusitis. Chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), characterized by inflammation of the nasal passages, accounts for more than 500,000 emergency room visits a year in the United States alone. It can cause congestion, fatigue and depression. It’s also been linked to asthma, meningitis and aneurysms. Recent evidence suggests that a depleted microbiome in nasal passages may be at the root. A team from the University of California, San Francisco, compared nasal passages of 10 CRS patients with 10 healthy people, finding far less diversity in the microbiomes of the CRS group overall; overgrowth of a single organism, Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum, was implicated in the disease. Another experiment depleted mice microbiomes by treating them with antibiotics for seven days; later, treated and untreated mice were exposed to Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum. Only those with the treated, depleted microbiomes had symptoms of sinusitis.

Infant immune deficits. Breast-fed babies obtain microbes from mother’s milk, an elixir that ends up enhancing early microbial colonization of the gut. This enriched microbiome, in turn, alters the expression of genes involved in immunity, conferring enhanced resistance to pathogens — an advantage that formula-fed infants, with less diverse microbiomes, do not possess.

Type 2 diabetes. An international team of scientists found that a specific pattern of intestinal microbes can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, a metabolic disease that prevents the body from properly utilizing sugar for energy. The pattern can serve as a biomarker, enabling those at risk to alter diet to prevent onset of disease.

Asthma. Scientists at the University of British Columbia in Canada showed that antibiotics given to mice early in life permanently shift the mix of bacterial organisms in the gut, disrupting the immune system and the inflammatory response throughout life. Higher risk of allergic asthma is a result. (Presumably, this is something that microbiome therapy could, at some future date, correct.)

Cancer. A study published in Science suggests that inflammation — resulting from infection, injury or other bodily insult — changes the ecosystem of the gut, allowing cancer-causing pathogens to invade and increasing the risk of colorectal cancer.

Psychiatric disease. Evidence suggests that supplementing with certain probiotics can treat anxiety and other psychiatric ills. To study this, researchers from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre in Ireland fed a popular probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus to mice and found significantly fewer stress-, anxiety- and depression-related behaviors than those fed broth alone. Not only did the bacteria improve behavior, they also helped reduce levels of the stress hormone corticosterone.

Clostridium difficile. A highly infectious and resistant pathogen that causes recurrent bouts of diarrhea, C. diff can run amok in imbalanced microbiomes, such as those where antibiotics have wiped out beneficial bugs. A study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases found that patients with persistent C. diff had much less bacterial diversity than patients in a control groupWhen it comes to treating C. diff, fecal transplants greatly outperform antibiotics, The New England Journal of Medicine reported this year, because they repopulate the microbiome.

For more information on the Microbiome, check out  Your Microbiome – The Ecosystem Inside.

And to keep your Microbiome on track, check out  Build a Better Microbiome.

Pamela Weintraub is executive editor of Discover magazine and the author of Cure Unknown: Inside the Lyme Epidemic (St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

Reprinted with permission from Experience Life Magazine.

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit to learn more, to sign up for Experience Life newsletters, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.