There goes the neighborhood
The human body contains 10 times more microbial cells than human cells, though the total combined weight of the latter is estimated to range from a mere 7 ounces and three pounds. (No blaming those extra pounds on unwanted bacteria.)
In fact, most of the microbes that make up you are very much wanted. They do good work or at least take up space and prevent nasty bugs from doing bad work. The vast majority of these beneficial microbes reside in your gut. Think intestinal tract homes.
They make your gut a busy and crowded place – and a good place as long as all of the neighbors get along. Throw in a few bad residents, however, and things can become quite unsettled, perhaps even diseased.
A new paper in the journal Cell, Host and Microbe by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and elsewhere makes that point. The scientists looked at the numbers and varieties of microbes living in the digestive tracts of healthy people and in people with Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition that afflicts more than 1 million Americans.
They found that the intestines of Crohn’s patients had fewer microbial numbers and less diversity. Of the various bacteria in residence, a greater proportion of species were associated with increased inflammation.
The findings could eventually prompt doctors to rethink how Crohn’s disease is treated. Some patients are prescribed antibiotics which, it may turn out, are killing as many or more good intestinal bacteria as bad, knocking the neighborhood’s microbial mix out of whack.
Photo: Scanning electron micrograph of intestinal bacteria, false colored. Image courtesy of Martin Oggerli