Our lives are intertwined with microbes. These creatures have developed a symbiotic relationship with the plants and animals of this Earth, evolving with us. We can't see them, but life on our planet is dependent on this vast community of bacteria.
It hasn’t been until recently that we’ve begun to notice the powers they hold. For instance, some studies suggest the bacteria in our gut influence the health of our brains and may even determine whether we are lean or obese.
From the moment of birth, each of us enters the world with a unique set of microbes—as unique as a fingerprint—and throughout life our lifestyles may continue to influence this microbial community for better or worse.
"We know quite a lot about associations between food and health, we know a bunch of associations between food and microbes, and we know a bunch about associations between microbes and health," microbiome researcher Rob Knight told NPR in an interview back in 2013.
But researchers are still trying to put all the pieces together.
One study looked at how antibiotics decimate a microbiome, and how this loss affects the brain.
“We found prolonged antibiotic treatment might impact brain function,” says senior author Susanne Asu Wolf of the Max-Delbrueck-Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin, Germany. “But probiotics and exercise can balance brain plasticity and should be considered as a real treatment option.”
It’s important to note the research in this study was conducted on mice. The researchers treated one group of mice with enough antibiotics to nearly clear their intestinal tracts of microbes, while another group of mice went untreated.
The researchers noted a decline in performance on memory tests among the mice teated with antibiotics, as well as a halt in the production of new brain cells. They found probiotics and exercise were the most effective treatment to reverse the side-effects relating to memory and neurogenisis after receiving an antibiotic.
In future research, the group plans to study the effects of probiotic treatments in patients with psychiatric or neurodegenerative disorders. "We could measure the outcome in mood, psychiatric symptoms, microbiome composition and immune cell function before and after probiotic treatment," says Wolf.
Microbes play a part in our health, but understanding just how much is something we’re still trying to figure out. Researchers have only just begun to scratch the surface.
Photo Credit: Christopher Furlong / Staff
Natalie has been writing professionally for about 6 years. After graduating from Ithaca College with a degree in Feature Writing, she snagged a job at PCMag.com where she had the opportunity to review all the latest consumer gadgets. Since then she has become a writer for hire, freelancing for various websites. In her spare time, you may find her riding her motorcycle, reading YA novels, hiking, or playing video games. Follow her on Twitter: @nat_schumaker