We are in the earliest days of understanding the human microbiome -- the communities of microbes that live in and on our bodies -- but already scientists are getting a sense of the incredible complexity of this ecosystem and its interaction with us.
Like so many, I was led to believe that bacteria were basically to be considered agents of disease. But current science is revealing another side of the story. As it turns out, the bacteria living within your intestines are not just keeping you healthy, they are keeping you alive!
We now have an opportunity to shift the focus from simply diagnosing and treating ill health to understanding, curing and preventing it. Caring for our microbes gives us a chance to conquer this new wave of illness, and live healthier, happier lives.
I believe we are on the verge of a paradigm shift in autism where the new view is that, while some genetic factors may be important, the underlying condition is more of an acquired syndrome that arises from externally-induced changes in metabolism, immune function, and the microbiome.
The small intestine is full of bacteria, and that's a good thing: We need a robust population of bacteria in both the small and large intestine to stay healthy. But when there are too many of the wrong kind of bacteria in the inappropriate place, symptoms like the above arise.
There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to the microbiome. You could be a vegetarian who eats all those grains and legumes that the Paleo people demonize -- and be extremely healthy. The key is to keep supporting your little friends inside -- your microbiome.
If we are to have any chance at adapting and staying healthy in the toxic world that we've inherited and continue to create, we need to use the one thing that can adapt faster and more efficiently than we can, the human microbiome.
Even though greater access to mass DNA sequencing technology and the emergence of bioinformatics has given us the ability to study the four pounds of microorganisms that make up the microbiome in greater detail, there's still much more that we can learn about the body's "unsung organ."