Your gut and immune system are intimately connected. Did you know that more than 99% of your genes come from microbes, and not from your chromosomes? While we have 22,000 to 25,000 chromosomal genes, we have approximately 3.3 million microbial genes, which are mainly bacterial. This, along with the fact that 60% to 70% of your immune cells are located in your gut, is why Rodney Dietert, Ph.D. and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University, believes that your gut microbiome at birth is the best predictor of your future health. Dietert says, not only is your gut microbiome crucial for immune function, but for your health in general, as it affects almost all other physiological systems.
It was previously believed that a baby’s immune system was complete at birth and there was little to no development involved after birth. But researchers are now discovering that a baby’s immune development in utero is not uniform and can be skewed in order to protect the pregnancy. Post-natal immune development via rebalancing the baby’s microbiome is key in preventing immune dysfunction-driven disease.
Dietert likens an infant’s compromised microbiome to a birth defect, as the infant is missing the majority of its genetics. Fortunately, it is a correctable defect.
An example of how a baby’s microbiome can become compromised is through a cesarean section and the use of antibiotics by both the mother and the baby. While C-sections are necessary in some instances, they do put a newborn at serious risk for developing a weakened microbiome. Gloria Dominguez Bello, Ph.D., at Rutgers University, explains that if you do have a C-section, you can compensate for the loss of microbial seeding by using a vaginal swab technique where the microbes from the mother’s vagina are manually transferred to the baby immediately after birth. While its effects are not 100% equivalent to that of a vaginal birth, it is still very effective.
Skin to skin contact, as well as breastfeeding, are also extremely important when it comes to seeding a baby’s microbiome. Oral contact with breast tissue, as well as breast milk itself are both integral in developing a baby’s immune system. Other factors that help to build a microbiome, include environmental exposures from soil, food and animals.
Dietert believes that these types of strategies are the direction we need to go in to assist parents in delivering the majority of the baby's genetics. “Those microbial genes are making proteins and enzymes, they're modifying what we see from the external environment, they're modifying our diet (via microbial metabolism) before our mammalian human cells ever see anything.”
In addition to directly metabolizing your food, drugs and chemicals, your microbiome also influences the epigenetic expression of your chromosomal genes. Curtis Klaassen, former president of the Society of Toxicology, states that “the microbes [encounter and respond to] our food first. They see our environmental chemicals first. They see drugs through most routes of administration first, and what they do with those determine what your body sees. So, they’re our gatekeeper, they’re our filter for our whole environmental existence.”
A simple strategy to protect your microbiome is to avoid antibiotics. While sometimes they may be necessary, you may be consuming them without even realizing it. That’s because the vast majority of antibiotic exposure comes from food, as animals raised in concentrated feeding operations are routinely fed antibiotics. If you eat meat, make sure to buy organic. And for fish, wild caught or sustainably farmed. Glyphosate is also an antimicrobial. It first destroys soil microbes, then plant microbes, then it gets into the animals and then us. Make sure you are avoiding pesticides by buying organic food. Read more about glyphosate here and the product we love to take to negate the effects here
If you struggle with leaky gut, something you can do to help repair it is supplement with vitamin D, as it optimizes your immunity and increases your body’s ability to repair epithelial cell damage and gaps in the intestinal barrier.
You can also supplement with keystone species bacteria, such as the genus Akkermansia, which is involved with mucin regulation. Dietert states that while vitamin D is important for gut repair, you also need bacteria to help maintain the mucin layer, which keeps inflammatory bacteria and particles from seeping through the intestinal barrier, and there are only a couple types of bacteria that do this.
By having a strong diversity of beneficial bacteria in your gut, your body will be able to prevent infection from occurring, even though you may have been exposed to a dangerous pathogen.
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR