THE Internal Garden 1 – the Symbiote
By: George Giltner, Advanced Master Gardener
Growing all of those fantastic varieties of veggies is an enjoyable and rewarding task of Spring. All of those diverse varieties bring in multiple flavors and nutrient levels into our diet. Now let’s follow all of these nutrients into the “Internal Garden” where the microbes function in a symphony of symbiosis within our bodies. Our health, sleep, behavior, moods, and mind are affected by microbial chemicals which have an astounding impact on our lives.
Our knowledge of personalized medicine took a springboard leap back in the late 1980’s with the beginning of the Human Genome Project. One of the unexpected outcomes was innovation in DNA sequencing technologies. This led to the realization that humans are more than the product of their human genes. We also needed to sequence the genomes of our bacterial inhabitants. In 2008 the National Institutes of Health began working on the Human Microbiome Project.
In the past 7 years, scientists have been sequencing our gut bacteria, and are investigating the ocean of chemicals produced by these bacterial inhabitants. Within the next ten years, we are expected to have a higher level of understanding of relationships with disease prevention and treatment. You can even participate. Contact the American Gut Project, and send $99 with a stool sample for a personalized list of bacteria in your colon. Obviously, there aren’t overwhelming contributions other than those of neuroscientists, cardiologist, immunologists, and other researchers. But, you are invited to participate by Dr. Rob Knight, professor of pediatrics and computer science and engineering, and director of the Microbiome Initiative (R.Knight, 2015).
Some physicians are acting on information gathered from numerous studies already completed. Graham Rook (2014) at University College London suggests that the absence of our “Old Friend-Soil Microbes” could explain the increases in inflammatory diseases, as diabetes, arthritis, and even depression. Our granddaughter’s pediatrician recommends “dirt and dog contact” to expose her to microbes that have been with man through history.
Animals provide numerous microbes to counterbalance the ultraclean lifestyles of modern homes and “clean-wipe” mindsets. Also she is encouraged to have soil contact by planting a small garden and containers with pesticide-free and chemical fertilizer-free soil.
At LSU School of Medicine, Dr. James M. Hill (Senior scientific investigator and professor of neuroscience) is studying the relationship between the gut’s microbiome and the risk for brain disease. His recent report (J.M. Hill, 2014) demonstrates multiple ways in which the brain and its functioning are influenced by activity in the gut. He’s explored how good gut bacteria produce important brain chemicals (Brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), and glutamate). Low levels of these chemicals are observed in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease patients. GABA allows the nervous system to weather stress better. Glutamine is a neurotransmitter involved with cognition, learning, and memory. BDNF is a critical brain growth protein for thinking and learning, and higher brain functions.
Actually hundreds of scientists are researching and exploring the many interactions between man and microbes. This exciting field of studies offers a better life for man with the understanding of numerous diseases (cancer, autism, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, etc.). So far it appears that gardening, farming, and animals increases our own diversity of bacteria – that leads to a healthier and happier life.
In the next article, the Internal Garden 2, we’ll look at how to feed a healthy “symbiote”, your own personal bacterial composite.
A. Rook, C. L. Raison, and C. A. Lowry, “Microbiota, Immunoregulatory Old Friends and Pyschiatric Disorders”, Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology 817(2014): 319-56.
M. Hill et al., “The Gastrointestinal Tract Microbiome and Potential Link to Alzheimer’s Disease,” Front. Neuro.5 (April 14, 2014): 43,doi: 10.3389/fneur.2014.00043, eCollection2014.
- Knight, “Follow Your Gut”, TED Books@TED.com, 2015.
- Sonnenburg and E. Sonnenburg. “The Good Gut, Taking Control of Your Weight, Your Mood, and Your Long-Term Health”, New York: Penguin Press. 2015.