At this point most of us have heard the term probiotic or have noticed the words lactobacillus and acidophilus listed on our dairy products – particularly yoghurt containers. But did you know that about two hundred trillion of these microscopic organisms- bacteria, viruses, and fungi – are swarming inside you right now and are part of a vast organism called a microbiome?
A microbiome is, in essence, the sum collection of all the microbes found in or on people. Currently, about 9 million adults in America are taking probiotics in one form or another. It has built up to a billion dollar industry. Results are as difficult to predict as the actual microbiome is hard to understand and unravel but some tests have shown dramatic results. In the Intensive Care Nursery at Duke University Medical Center, the Preemie Microbiome Project has become an important step in understanding how we achieve a healthy, balanced microbiome in the first place. Researchers know that infants acquire about 100 species of microbes in the birth canal and others come from the mother’s skin after birth. Microbes can also be found in the mouth, lungs, between our toes and eyelashes, and even living in and around our tummy buttons. Our nose, mouth and eyes are also obvious entry points for germs. Tears and mucus contain an enzyme (lysozyme) that breaks down the cell wall of many bacteria. Saliva is also anti-bacterial. Since the nasal passage and lungs are coated in mucus, many germs not killed immediately are trapped in the mucus and soon swallowed. So your body has a regular artillery of defenses that it would seem logical to support as much as possible.
Scientists feel that understanding and controlling the diversity of our germs could be the key to a range of future medical treatments as well as maintaining our general health – diversity provides resilience in our bodies as it does in our environment and our local communities. Biologists at Washington University in St. Louis have done studies that suggest that the microbiome may play a significant role in affecting the ability of the body to digest properly, extract energy from food and to deposit it as fat and it has long been thought that the gut is the seat of the immune system. Imbalances in the microbiome in this part of the body might be linked, for example, to allergies, IBS, Krohns, diabetes, obesity and generally poor digestion. So it is becoming clear that managing the microbiome might be far more preferable to pummeling it with antibiotics. Which of course brings up the issue of the increased use of antibiotics not only through prescription but also in our food chain – especially in chicken and cattle feed. It has been established that continued use of antibiotics will eradicate certain strains of friendly bacteria that never fully repopulate certain areas of the body. So buy organic as much as possible. In the fullness of time we will understand how our genetic make-up, lifestyle, health and disease, influence the metabolic composition of our gut, and how this in turn influences, and is influenced by, our gut microbiome. And perhaps the next time you feel yourself getting hungry, or are feeling lethargic, you might ask yourself whether it’s really you, or is it the residents of your gut? As scientist Lynn Margulis commented in the April edition of Discover magazine,”We couldn’t live without bacteria. They maintain our ecological physiology. There are vitamins in bacteria that we can not live without. The movement of gas and feces would never take place without bacteria. There are hundreds of ways our bodies wouldn’t work without them. Bacteria are our ancestors.”
As any good aesthetician knows, the skin is an important part of the body’s immune system and will reflect inner stress and poor lifestyle. Topically, the skin produces antimicrobial peptides that keep bacteria in check. But when certain conditions are present, like psoriasis, acne, atopic dermatitis and rosacea, the skin’s defenses are over ridden and bacteria and fungi proliferate. Harsh cleansers, highly acidic formulas and prescription medications, both oral and topical, often exacerbate the problem, so correct analysis and product recommendations at this stage are vital. At SkinSense, we take a two step approach to skin health and wellness.
After counseling the client about diet and lifestyle we suggest a spa routine that is corrective without being too aggressive. Skin that is dehydrated or broken out won’t respond well to immediately aggressive peels or exfoliating treatments so we balance the skin with enzymes and aromatherapy before attempting anything more advanced. Meanwhile the client uses a home care routine that is also gently re-balancing including vitamins A, C, and B5 with plenty of ceramides and hyaluronic acid to calm and hydrate. Consistent and diligent morning and evening routines are always important but never more so than at this particular stage.
It is also interesting to note that probiotics have now started showing up in product formulations for topical use where they can encourage cell renewal, improve barrier function and retain surface moisture. This builds new tissue and gives the skin a glow. We also have a list of alkaline foods compiled from “The Acid Alkaline Food Guide” by Dr. Susan Brown that many of our clients find very useful and we recommend specific brands of probiotics that are easily purchased locally.
The secret to staying healthy and keeping skin youthful it seems, might be in keeping your germs healthy and your bodies pH balanced too. This way we can reflect both inner and outer health on a daily basis.