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illness

Health + Wellness

What is a Microbiome anyway?

There’s a flaming hot topic floating around the world of health these days….The MICROBIOME.

Chances are you’ve heard of it in passing – maybe at your naturopathic clinic or while scrolling through your twitter feed. Perhaps, you’ve never heard the word before and if that’s the case, don’t worry you’re not alone. The truth is, scientists themselves are only beginning to understand what a Microbiome really is and how it works in our bodies.

In order to explain this to you, let’s start at the very beginning.

What is a Microbiome?

If you think back to Biology 101, you probably learned that the human body is made up of many different kinds of cells – skin cells, muscle cells, nerve cells and blood cells. All of these are human cells – your cells – functioning according to the set of specific instructions encoded in your genes. However, your body also contains trillions of cells that are not human, but microbial. Microbes include things like bacteria, fungi, protists and viruses. These microbes have their own unique set of genes. Together, these microbes constitute the human microbiome.   Basically, it’s the ecosystem of microbes that live on you and within you.

This microbiome plays a major role in your health from helping your immune system to aiding in digestion. The collection of microbes that constitute the microbiome is not random. The human microbiome is made up of a particular set of microbes that complement each other and the human host – that’s you!  Each microbiome is unique and they play a huge part in the dynamic balance between health and disease.

How big is the Microbiome?

Your microbiome is massive and its everywhere – it’s not only on you but it comprises you. It includes approximately 100 trillion bacterial cells. Here’s the number: 100, 000, 000, 000, 000! (jeez, that’s a lot of 0’s)

The human body is made up of about 37 trillion human cells. That means at any given time, you are carrying around 3 times more bacterial cells than human ones. But the microbiome includes more than just bacteria. It also comprises plenty of viruses, fungi, archea, and single celled eukaryotes.

The microbiome is also big in terms of space and weight. The weight of the human microbiome is about 2.5 pounds. In volume, it would occupy about 3 pints!

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Where did I get my microbiome from?

Simply put, we get most of our microbiome from other humans. Newborn babies encounter microbes for the first time during birth. Babies inherit the first bits of their microbiomes from their mothers as they pass through the vaginal canal during childbirth, which is one of the reasons vaginal birth is so important when it comes to building our natural immunities. As the baby is being born, it is coated with microbes from the mother’s birth canal. Babies that are born by caesarean section first encounter microbes from the mother’s skin and from other individuals who touch the baby (reason why skin-to-skin is important!).

The next source of microbes for baby is breast milk. In addition to providing nutrients, vitamins and antibodies needed for baby’s growth and nutrition, breast milk also supplies many different kinds of bacteria to populate baby’s gut.

Why does my microbiome matter anyway?

The balance of your microbiome promotes your overall health. Think of a seesaw – when completely balanced the body functions optimally and symbiotically. When out of balance, there is chaos and disease processes take over.

Researchers reveal that a healthy gut can promote a well-functioning immune system, digestive wellness, a good mood, healthy glucose levels, balanced yeast growth, and positive sleep patterns.

Your microbiome also helps you combat aggressions from other microorganisms. Think of it as your own little army!

How do I take good care of my microbiome?

Now that you know about the trillions of little microbial friends you are carrying around and the important role they play in your health, you probably want to keep them happy!

Although there is still more research being done on what characterizes a healthy microbiome and how our behaviour affects it, we do know that diet can affect your microbiome. First, the foods you consume are also feeding your microbes. Prebiotic foods, such as those high in fiber, fruits and vegetables will help to feed the good bacteria in your gut and help them thrive.

Secondly, actually consuming microbes can change your GI microbiota. Fermented foods like yogurt, miso, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut contain microbes that are similar to those found in your GI tract.

There are also supplements that are made up of microbes, called Probiotics, designed to supplement good bacteria. Consult with a naturopathic doctor to really understand which exact microbes you need and which type of probiotic is right for you.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics can also have a profound and often long-lasting negative effect on the microbiome, especially a developing one. For more information, make sure you consult with a health care practitioner.

Your microbiome is unique, dynamic and imperative to a healthy life. Remember, you can play a hands-on role in shaping your microbiome in so many ways from dietary changes to simple lifestyle modifications. Take care of your microbiome and it will most definitely take care of you!

 

Babies + Kids

Fevers: Friend or Foe?

A few months ago, my 14 month old daughter Rose woke up in the middle of the night with a fever. She went to bed easily and a few hours later, she was awake, crying and heating up. Her temperature was 103°F and rising. Like any parents, my husband and I were both worried. However, as a chiropractor treating many infants and children, I know that fevers are a part of our body’s healthy immune response. But that didn’t stop us from being slightly panicked anyway.

Many parents misinterpret the dangers of a high fever and believe they should be suppressed immediately, at all costs. We often confuse fever with being a sign of illness instead of a sign of our normal immune response. In fact, fevers are one of the body’s natural and effective protective mechanisms. Temperatures between 100° and 104° F (37.8° – 40° C) are generally a sign of functioning immune system and are good for sick children helping their bodies fight infections.

Here are a few fever related questions I often get asked by parents:

Q.  When should I be concerned about my child’s fever?

A. Children can be warm for many reasons – they are basically giving off heat. Generally their temperatures should be back within normal ranges within 10 to 20 minutes. Normal ranges vary depending on the way the temperature was taken (eg. rectal, ear, oral, axillary).

Here are the guidelines for parents to seek medical attention when their infant or child has a fever (using the rectal or ear method of taking temperatures):

    • Infants 0-3 months with a temperature higher than 100.4°F (or 38°C); parents should seek care immediately and continue to breastfeed often while waiting for care.
    • Children 3-36 months with a temperature higher than 102.2°F (39°C), if they appear ill. Breastfeeding often while waiting for care.
    • Children older than 36 months with a temperature higher than 104.5°F (40.3°C)

For children not in the above three categroies, bed rest and fluids will support the fever and allow it to do the job that your child needs it to do.

Q. What are febrile seizures and are they harmful?

A. Febrile seizures are convulsions brought on by a fever in infants or small children. During a febrile seizure, a child often loses consciousness or shakes, moving limbs on both sides of the body. Seizures are very scary to watch but are over rather quickly and do not cause permanent harm.

An article in the medical journal, Neurology, concluded that most febrile seizures do not adversely affect global measures of intelligence, nor do they harm more specific functions such as memory in children older than 1 year of age.

Q. My child has a low grade fever. Should I give her some medication to reduce it? 

A. Most parents, myself included, want to do everything we can to help our children feel better. However in the case of a fever, the best medicine is to support the fever and let it run its course. A fever of 102°F to 103°F is considered the optimal defense against microbes.

Supporting your child’s fever means keeping him or her comfortable and resting. Offering plenty of fluids and keeping them cool by removing layers. Don’t force food. Generally children have reduced appetites when fighting infections – let her determine when and what she eats. Keep in mind, sugary foods often delay the natural immune response.

Medication is not always needed to reduce a child’s temperature. In fact, the best reason for giving your child medicine is not to reduce the fever, but to relieve any aches and pains.

Here is the American Academy of Pediatrics advice to parents as found on their website:

“Fevers generally do not need to be treated with medication unless your child is uncomfortable or has a history of febrile convulsions. The fever may be important in helping your child fight the infection”

Remember moms and dads: Fever is one of the good guys.

Suppressing a fever will only delay your child’s natural immune response to help fight the infection. Instead supporting a fever will help your child feel better, faster!

And we all want happy, healthy babies after all!

 

 

References:

Neurology (July 10 2001; 57:7-8, 37-42)

www.mercola.com (Dr. Mercola)

www.aap.org (American Academy of Pediatrics)

(graphic www.magicmum.com)