For most of the 20th century, the notion that gut microbes positively influence many aspects of health was at the fringes of science and medicine. Scientists didn’t have methods to truly explore the functional aspects of gut microbial communities. It remained a black box.
The microbial black box revealed
Technological advances over the last decade have allowed scientists to peer into the dark world of intestinal microbes. The term microbiome includes microbes and the functional genetic material they carry. Humans have the equivalent of one microbe for every human cell, but even more astonishing is that, from the genetic vantage point, we are over 95 percent microbial.
Probiotic manufacturing and quality has greatly improved in the recent past and so has their scientific scrutiny. Dr. Gregor Reid, Endowed Chair in Human Microbiome and Probiotics at the Lawson Health Research Institute, recently showed that Canadians could save millions of dollars in health care costs with probiotic use.
As we humans go about our lives; experience joy, awe, passion; and deal with the challenges we face, microbes are there with us. Not just sitting there idle like passengers on a carnival ride, but sharing our foods, drinks, stress hormones, and all the while influencing our nutritional status, metabolism, neurotransmitters, and immune system among many important functions.
Our lifestyle choices influence the life of our microbes, and in turn, they influence us. Virtually every chronic medical condition from A to Z has been linked in some way to dysbiosis (loss of healthy microbial ecosystems).
The microbiome is now front of mind among not only scientists, but also among health care providers and the general public. There’s no question that the microbiome is a critical factor in human health and well-being. However, scientists still have to figure out whether dysbiosis is a cause or effect (or both) in relation to chronic disease.
Studies examining antibiotics and fecal transplants, at least in animals, argue for some level of causation. Still, there are many overenthusiastic headlines and zealous sales pitches which are not in line with current microbiome science. For the general public, it’s tough to separate out the nonsensical hype, future hope, and honest interventions that might help promote a healthy gut ecosystem in the here-and-now.
Town Hall Medicine
To help cut through the noise, the University of Toronto Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy has paired with the B Corp-certified company Genuine Health in a project called Town Hall Medicine. The effort brings together top-flight academics and thought leaders; they discuss their own research and tackle tough questions that help to dismantle many of the myths and hype surrounding the microbiome.