(Natural News) Natural and complementary health practitioners have been educating their patients for years about the importance of a healthy microbiome – the perfect balance between friendly and harmful bacteria in the digestive system, which directly correlates to a healthy immune system, brain health and mental well-being. This balance is essential, because if the immune system is not strong enough the body will be susceptible to disease, and if it is overly sensitive it can attack its own systems, resulting in autoimmune diseases.
Now, a new study out of Harvard has confirmed what publications like Natural News have been saying for years: There is a direct link between gut health, immunity and autoimmune diseases like diabetes.
The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sought to investigate how a set of “guardian genes” – known as human leukocyte antigen (HLA) in humans, and major histocompatibility complexes (MHC) in mice – protect against autoimmune diseases.
The study determined that at least one of these genes is shaped by friendly bacteria in the gut. Of even greater importance was the team’s discovery that these guardian genes are virtually neutralized if their hosts are exposed to antibiotics in the womb or shortly after birth, or if they are kept in unnaturally sterile environments.
When treated with antibiotics in the first six weeks of life, mice went on to develop pancreatic inflammation, a precursor to type 1 diabetes, despite carrying the guardian gene. Treatment with antibiotics later in life — between six and 10 weeks after birth — did not lead to loss of protection against diabetes. The observation suggests a period during which the newborn gut is seeded by various germs, the researchers say. Interfering with that process by administering antibiotics appears to disrupt the balance of the gut microbiota, which in turn leads to loss of genetic protection.
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Mice whose mothers had been given antibiotics in the 10 days before giving birth lost their genetic protection, the researchers found, and went on to develop pancreatic inflammation. Mice born with the protective gene but raised in sterile cages and deprived of bacterial exposure during early development never acquired gut microbial balance and disease protection.
Jonathan Landsman, writing for Natural News, highlighted the fact that over 70 percent of human immunity starts in the gut, and that friendly bacteria are vital for the proper digestion of food and the production of chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.
While doctors are quick to prescribe antidepressants and other chemical medicines to enhance production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, 80 percent of them are actually produced by our gut flora. It is therefore entirely logical that the way to treat problems like depression is not to medicate the symptoms away, but to correct the balance of the microbiome.
While it is important to avoid the use of antibiotics before birth and in the early years of life, and to ensure that babies are exposed to a variety of bacteria to develop healthy immune systems, it is also vitally important to ensure that we eat the right foods throughout our lifetimes to maintain a healthy microbiome.
This would include limiting processed carbohydrates, which feed unhealthy bacteria like the Candida albicans yeast, and increasing intake of fermented probiotic foods and drinks like yogurt with live cultures, kombucha, pickles and sauerkraut.
A finely tuned microbiome requires many different types of bacteria, and to ensure you are getting them all, it may be wise to invest in a high-quality probiotic supplement.
Ensuring a healthy digestive system also means keeping stress to a minimum, eating fresh, non-GMO, organic fruits and veggies, maintaining a healthy weight, and incorporating an enjoyable form of exercise into your daily routine.
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