The 100 Trillion-guest dinner party in your colon: An odyssey.
You’d have to be living under a rock to have not heard all the “buzz” populating the internet these days. “Limit the amount of antibiotics you take” and “be careful not to use antibacterial soaps and hand-sanitizers” or “take a probiotic supplement to nourish your friendly bacteria”. This is all good advice as our gut flora plays an important role in our health; but just how important is it, and where do they come from? I mean, it’s hard to comprehend, but your body actually has more not-human than human material.
There are literally hundreds of strains of various bacteria living in and on your body, so why do most supplements only contain a few? Because we have only been able to isolate and identify about half of them. In fact, there are many bacteria that are so specialized, so elusive, they can’t live outside of our bodies; they cannot be studied in a petri dish; they cannot be replicated. It is the vast quantity and variety of these organisms that create the complex immune systems we have. So my next question is “if they can’t live outside of our bodies, and we don’t create them inside our bodies, where do they come from?” The answer is so simple. Like most good things, they came from your mother.
In utero, a baby’s gut is a largely sterile environment. However, the messy, dynamic process of childbirth puts an abrupt end to that, exposing him to the many maternal microbes as he passes through the birth canal and out into the larger world. In the weeks and months that follow, the skin-to-skin contact, along with breastfeeding, populate his body both internally and externally with the flora that will accompany him through the rest of his life. However, the initial exposure to the mother’s bacteria on his journey through the vaginal canal establishes the baby’s initial bacterial environment and begins the process of proliferation. So, given the sheer quantity of immune tissue in the human gut, you can imagine just how important this initial exposure is for the development of the baby’s immune system.
Interestingly, babies who are born by Cesarean section do not have the same exposure, thus their early gut flora does not develop properly, leading to an increased incidence of childhood allergies and asthma.
In short, our microbiome is planted in us like a seed in the first few moments of life, and proliferates to colonize our guts and keep our immune systems healthy.
Talk with your health practitioner on how best to support this amazing aspect of our bodies. There are many different supplements and food choices out there and some may be better specifically for you than others.