We all know what a sanitised world we live in, with every surface cleaned with antibacterial products, every cough and cold treated with antibiotics and so much of our food processed and pasteurised. But what effect has this had on the microbes in our gut, known as the microbiome, and how is this changing our health?
The recent discovery of an untouched, ancient tribe in Venezuela has given us a unique insight into the effects of modern life of the microbiome, and the effects this may be having on our health.
Who are these people?
The Yanomami tribe were discovered by chance by low flying military helicopters in the remote Amazonas region of Venezuela. It is thought that the tribe have had no outside contact since the ice age, and so have never been exposed to modern lifestyles or medicines. You can read more about this exciting discovery here.
The tribe agreed to have the microbes in their faeces examined and compared to those of modern cultures, as well as to developing tribes who are mid-way between their ancient way of life and modern living.
What did they find?
The researchers were expecting to find a more diverse microbiome in the Yanomami people, but were surprised by size of the difference. The gut bacteria of the tribe were 40% more diverse than comparable microbes from modern man. At the same time, so-called modern diseases, such as asthma and inflammatory bowel disease were unheard of in the tribe.
Dr Dominguez Bello, from the New York University School of Medicine, explained their surprise at the findings. “In the intestine they had a diversity that really shocked us, which we think is providing a lot of important roles in digestion and in communicating with their immune system.”
Can we use this discovery?
These findings could have far reaching implications for the way we treat and prevent diseases, as Dr Dominguez Bello explains: “We want to understand what the bacteria are that we have lost, what their functions were and find out whether we can restore them eventually”. Her colleague, Dr Dantas from Washington University agrees, seeing a future in which such microbes are ‘bioprospected’ and synthesised to create a more diverse microbiome that is better suited to maintaining the immune response and fighting disease.
How can we use these findings now?
We may be a long way from synthesising the kind of gut microbe diversity that protects the Yanomami, but we can still work at balancing our own microbiome. Colon hydrotherapy is a great way of cleansing the gut of an imbalanced of bad bacteria and of creating the ideal environment for good bacteria to thrive. What’s more, most ARCH therapists will be able to recommend a course of probiotics to give the good bacteria in your system a boost.
We may not be able to take you back to the bacterial resistance of your ancestors, but we can help you fight the rigors of modern life and diet, to give your guts, and your immune system, the best possible chance when it comes to fighting disease.