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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Steps to a Healthy Microbiome


My patients are often surprised when I ask them where they were born and whether or not hospital walls and their mother's vaginal canal were key players in their emergence. As someone who follows a burgeoning literature on the role of the microbiome in regulation of immunity, inflammatory response, and brain health, the formative role of the birth experience in later mental health is one I choose to shine my investigative light on.

Mental health and wellness are often, if not always, a reflection of bodily and physiologic balance – endocrine, gut, immune, neurochemical. Through this lens, allergic and autoimmune disorders, metabolic derailments, and cancer are all relevant indicators of the nature of this multifocal imbalance and the pathway to repair.

Steps to a Healthy Microbiome
Pathologies such as obsessive-compulsive disorder can be seen as an inflammatory/immune/microbiome-based problem with a non-medication resolution (far from the hand-waving attribution of these symptoms to a "serotonin imbalance"). Increasing evidence supports the primary role of the gut microbiome in influencing stress-response patterns, most notably cortisol production and regulation[1].

When, with the completion of the Human Genome Project, we learned that we must have outsourced the vast majority of our human physiology to somewhere other than our 25,000 genes, we began to focus on epigenetics. This is the body's ability to manifest variable genetic expression within our epigenome without changes to the primary nucleotide sequences of our DNA itself, and this mechanism relies primarily on environmental cues, sometimes referred to as the exposome.

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