by Dr. Bill Rawls
Last Updated 11/01/16
Your microbiome is the sum of all the microbes that inhabit your body. It is made up mostly of microbes found in the gut, oral cavity, vagina, and skin, but microbes can be found throughout the body. There are over 400 species possible with an infinite number of different combinations.
Though they are much smaller than human cells, the single-celled organisms that we refer to as microbes are ten times more common than human cells. There are roughly 10 trillion human cells making up the body and 100 trillion microbial cells that inhabit that body. The entire microbiome weighs about 3 pounds.
Your relationship with most of the microbes is symbiotic; both you and microbes benefit. They are your friendly normal flora. Some microbes in mix, however, have the potential to be pathogens (disease-causing microbes). You depend on a healthy immune system to suppress the disease-causing potential and maintain these microbes as commensals (microbes gain benefit, but cause no harm in the process).
Just after birth, your immature microbiome was the same as your mother. Exposure to the environment at large, however, quickly established a unique microbiome for you. A person’s microbiome is as unique as his or her genes.
Though the microbiome of an adult is relatively stable, it continues to be influenced by environmental factors. Everything encountered in the surrounding environment influences the microbiome. Food, toxins, stress, and other factors affect the balance of your microbiome. Factors that shift the balance of the microbiome from normal flora toward pathogens is the basis of not only intestinal disease, but many other chronic diseases.
Beyond factors that influence an established microbiome, new microbes are continually being added to your microbiome throughout life. New microbes can enter the mix by way of food or liquids ingested, air breathed, abrasions or cuts in the skin, sexual contact, and insect bites. Many of the microbes collected along the way are pathogens or have the potential to be pathogens.
How much the addition of a new microbe gets noticed depends on the virulence of that particular microbe.
Virulence is the ability (propensity) of a microbe to cause illness. An infection with a higher virulence microbe causes significant acute symptoms and gets noticed rapidly. Either the immune system dispenses with the microbe rapidly or appropriate medical care is administered to eradicate the infection.
Lower virulence microbes, however, often slip through a crack the door unnoticed and cause few, if any acute symptoms. Because lower virulence microbes are often hidden, they are often called stealth microbes. Stealth microbes are notorious for causing hidden chronic infections. Chronic low grade infection with stealth microbes often cause nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, brain-fog, decreased cognitive ability, joint pain, muscle pain, and a range of other symptoms commonly associated with aging.
Stealth microbes have been linked to many chronic illnesses including Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, ALS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and autoimmune disease. It is possible that all chronic diseases have a link to some type (or types) of stealth microbes.
Healthful food and a clean living environment is one of the most important things that you can do to maintain a healthy microbiome. Herbal therapy is another.
Plants have to maintain a healthy microbiome just like we do. Plants, however, have been creating biochemical solutions to do so for all the millenia. Medicinal herbs are plants that have been selected out over thousands of years that mesh particularly well with human biochemistry.
Considering the importance of a healthy microbiome, possibly the most important aspect of medicinal herbs is antimicrobial properties. Unlike antibiotics, however, plant biochemicals target pathogens and support normal flora. Herbs also contain biochemicals that protect against other types of stress factors such as free radicals, provide nutrients, balance hormonal systems, support normal immune function, and enhance healing systems in the body.
All considered, medicinal herbs offer more protection for your health and your microbiome than anything on earth.