Healthy Microbiome Protects Against Deadly Disease

happy microbes
July 6, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

The virus you’ll want to catch

When listening to the mainstream medical world, it probably sounds like everything microbial is out to get us.

Our soaps come with “antibacterial” and “antimicrobial” stickers colorfully blazing away. More than one diet aims to flush out our systems, ridding us of outside invaders. And there are few words considered dirtier than “virus.”

Of course, there are plenty of damaging bacteria and viruses out there, which can cause all sorts of health issues. I’ve written to you about more than a few.

But we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. The truth is, viruses and bacteria aren’t quite so black and white an issue.

In fact, some are absolutely essential to our health. And if we’re not careful, over-sanitation can do more harm than good.

Having healthy bacteria in your gut, probiotics, is a perfect example. Indeed, without the proper mix of these helpful outsiders, our digestive system struggles to successfully process our food.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Yes, viruses can make us sick. But some actually exist in a symbiotic relationship with us. And one new study is showing just how powerful that relationship can be.

The Flu-Fighting Virus Half Of Us Have

Stanford University scientists just published a new study in Science Translational Medicine that highlights one common virus that appears to help tune up our autoimmune system.

This would-be hero is named cytomegalovirus—CMV for short. About half of all Americans carry CMV, while nearly everyone in the developing world has it. It’s usually found in the salivary glands, and is picked up when we’re toddlers.

And in mice, CMV has been shown to stop the flu virus dead in its tracks.

In humans, young adults with CMV have a better reaction to flu vaccines, and an immune system that better targets flu pathogens in general.

While the team only studied the flu, they believe the beneficial effects of CMV extend to plenty of other pathogens as well. It appears that CMV helps our immune system identify, and then attack, harmful invaders.

To be clear, CMV isn’t a perfect cure. The beneficial effects disappear with age. And its presence has been linked to other problems, like heart disease.

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Chronic Inflammation Decoded

That may or may not be a causal relationship. But the fact that CMV has helpful properties is surprising enough. The study originally expected the opposite result.

How CMV helps our immune system isn’t yet clear—it’s being studied further, and hopefully will help improve future medicine.

But what is clear is this: We’ve found another passenger that helps care for the vessel.

Take Care Of Your World

This is just the latest finding that supports what progressive medicine has said for a long time.

Humans aren’t singular creatures. We’re an entire ecosystem unto ourselves. In fact, if you extracted all the microscopic creatures that live inside us, you’d have pounds of material. There are ten times as many bacterial cells in our bodies as human ones.

Even if it were possible to flush them all out, we’d never want to. The vast majority of bacteria—and, we now find, even some viruses—are beneficial.

That’s why sterility shouldn’t be your goal. Rather, a healthy human ecosystem is what we want.

A large part of that is eating a healthy, balanced diet. Our bacteria like exactly the same things that are good for us.

But helping the process along with probiotic supplements—encouraging the good bacteria to flourish, and crowd out any dangerous invaders—is essential as well.

I know, to some, encouraging foreign lives to thrive inside us feels a bit weird.

But it’s time to move past that antiquated worldview. The bacteria and viruses are in us already and will be as long as we walk this earth.

Instead of fighting this fact, we should spend our time encouraging friendly bacteria to grow and dominate our human biome. Probiotics—from yogurt, to specialized supplements—are easily the best way to achieve this.

If probiotics aren’t yet part of your regimen, add them in. Come flu season, you may be very glad you did.

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