September 3, 2018

(working title)

The Microbiome, chemicals and healing

A healthy maternal gut microbiome is one key to the vitality of a child's early life and potentially entire life. Now that we know how to establish a healthy maternal microbiome, what are the risk factors aside from diet that dramatically reduce the biodiversity and function of the gut microbiome over time.

The answer to this question comes primarily in the form of another question. What substances can alter the function of the bacteria by

culling certain beneficial populations giving rise to more pathological species to take over the intestinal real estate? I think of the real estate as ground zero for success. If healthy bacteria are able to stay viable and proliferate, they take up real estate all along the intestine that prohibits bad squatters from laying down a new foundation.

It was once explained to me by Dr. Gerry Mullin, an expert in the field of gut microbial analysis and treatment at John's Hopkins University, that any perturbation to the resident microbes allows a brief period of time for other microbes to take over the abandoned real estate. If the system rebalances quickly because the perturbation was short lived, the bad squatters are pushed back out by the resident neighbors. If the negative event becomes chronic, then the resident microbes lose further real estate and the new bacteria that may be pathological can take up residence permanently. This is believed to be the point at which many diseases begin.

So, if perturbations to our native bacteria is a risk for disease and dysfunction, let us look at the data to learn about the causes of these perturbations.

In a broad class definition, it appears that chemicals of all kinds have the ability to perturb the gut microbes. Ingested chemicals, pharmaceutical drugs, inhaled toxins and much more have been linked to microbiome damage.

"Exposure to environmental chemicals has been linked to various health disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and dysregulation of the immune and reproductive systems, whereas the gastrointestinal microbiota critically contributes to a variety of host metabolic and immune functions". (Claus et. al. 2016)

There is a solid body of evidence that pesticides, metals, hydrocarbons and other commonly used environmental chemicals can potentially alter our microbiomes. When I use google scholar and search, environmental chemicals and perturbed gut microbiota, the search returns over 17,000 articles.

After years of reading about this topic, the two biggest controllable toxic offenders to the human gut microbiome are pharmaceutical drugs: antibiotics and antacids. These medicines dramatically shift the environment in the human gut allowing for significant long term damage. Whether it is the antacid changing the upstream stomach acid pH level allowing bacteria to thrive abnormally or the antibiotic directly selecting to kill some microbes over others, these medicines have profound effects on mom and baby. (Mueller et. al. 2015)(Bavishi et. al. 2011)(Nato et. al. 2018)(Jackson et. al. 2016)(Francino et. al. 2016)

This topic can go on for pages about the different drugs or chemicals and their individual effects on mom and baby. Suffice it to say that I am not convinced that drugs of any kind or environmental toxicants have a safe place in pregnancy. The current data stream is stacked against the use of medicines or chemicals while pregnant unless you have no choice. What I am not saying is to avoid medicine if it is recommended, more that we need to be proactive in staying healthy to avoid the need for medicines.

So what to do???

I believe that safety first is the key to a healthy pregnancy. If we as a culture make choices like exercising and eating healthfully that prevent the need for medicines to be used and we avoid chemical exposures where possible, we have the best chance of preserving our individual microbiomes for a healthy childhood outcome.


Dr. M


NPJ Biofilms and Microbiomes Claus Article
Google Search: environmental chemicals and perturbed gut microbiota
Trends in Molecular Medicine Mueller Article
Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics Bavishi Article
Digestion Naito Article
Gut Jackson Article
Frontiers in Microbiology Francino Article