Microorganisms

Do we live with or without them?

A microorganism is a tiny life form that cannot be seen by the human eye. These organisms are found everywhere on Earth. They are present in the air, water, soil, plants, animals and even in and on the human body. In fact, microbial cells on our bodies are estimated to outnumber human cells ten to one.  Now this does not mean that we are full of germs and need to purify ourselves. There are many beneficial bacteria that the body needs to function properly and to help protect us. For instance, in our digestive system we have trillions of beneficial flora (bacteria) from mouth to rectum. These bacteria produce enzymes that help break down proteins, carbohydrates, fiber and fats. They create substances that assist the transport of vitamins and minerals through the gut for absorption in our blood stream. They can also synthesize essential nutrients including vitamin B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B12, folic acid, vitamin K2 and some amino acids. These beneficial bacteria are important for maintaining good health and a strong immune system. Below is a small list of beneficial microbes found in the body.

 

It is important to maintain a good balance of beneficial bacteria, not only in the digestive system but throughout the whole body. Overgrowth of these bacteria or invasion of other microorganisms can lead to disease. Microorganisms could be a bacteria, parasite, virus, mould or fungus that the immune system recognizes as a foreign substance.

In the body when a foreign substance invades (also known as an antigen), several immune cells work together to recognize and respond. Antibodies, which are designed to identify and neutralize the problem, are triggered by specialized white blood cells (lymphocytes) to lock onto the antigen. Once activated, the antibodies continue to exist in the body so that if the same antigen invades again, the antibody is ready to do their job and prevent you from getting sick. This is also the principle that immunizations are based on. The eradication of smallpox was the first example of an immunization. An English physician, Edward Jenner, in 1796 observed that milkmaids who developed cowpox did not develop the deadly small pox. When the milkmaids were exposed to the cowpox virus their immune systems created antibodies to the antigen on the cowpox virus. These antigens being similar to the smallpox virus allowed the immune system to recognize and neutralize small pox as they both are from the same viral family (please refer to Vaccines for more information).

In chronic infections, microorganisms have the ability to evade the immune system; they can hide in areas of poor circulation, create an environment that promotes their growth and dominate the host’s behavior. The ability of microorganisms to control the host’s body can be seen in “zombie ants”. A newfound fungus, Ophiocordyceps camponoti-balzani, has the ability to infect an ant, take over its brain and then kill the ant once it moves to an area that is ideal for the fungi to grow and spread its spores to other ants. The fungus actually sticks out of the ants head and controls their body movements.  This mind control fungus has not been found to affect humans but microorganisms are capable of affecting our mind and body. Neuropeptides released by microorganisms can influence behavior i.e. increase cravings for sugar consumption to support the microbes. Research has implicated specific infections as risk factors in the occurrence of schizophrenia. These include rubella, influenza, chicken pox, herpes (HSV-2), polio, coxsackie virus, Lyme disease and Toxoplasmosis.  The association of schizophrenia with these microbes suggests that these organisms have stealth capabilities and are not fully eliminated by the immune system.

Stealth microorganisms should not be confused with antimicrobial resistant microorganisms. Resistant microbes are able to withstand treatment from antimicrobial medicines. Standard treatments become ineffective and the infection persists. For example, MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcous aureus) is a highly resistant bacterium to the traditional treatment of methicillin and therefore persists in the body. This form of resistance is believed to be the result of the misuse of antimicrobial medicines whereby the organism mutates to become a superbug and is no longer threatened by the same drug treatment. Stealth microorganisms are different in that they have the ability to survive in the body even after our immune system mounts an attack against it.

These stealth microorganisms are very difficult to detect by Western Science and can often be mislabeled as an autoimmune disease. The body attacks itself, attempting to remove the stealth organism. Unfortunately, healthy tissues are often affected, weakening the body. In Multiple Sclerosis, herpes virus 6, mycoplasmas, borrelia, cytomegalovirus and Lyme have been identified as suspected causes. Stealth microorganisms have also been acknowledged in osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and cancer. With a weakened immune system, these microorganisms can persist and lead to disease.

There are multiple body and lifestyle factors that can contribute to the weakening of the immune system, disturbing the balance of beneficial flora, creating an environment for foreign substances to invade and grow. For example, gut bacteria grow well at normal body temperature (37°C), but bacteria from plants may be killed at that temperature. Therefore someone who has a low temperature may have an increased risk for opportunistic infection of stealth microorganisms.  In 2008 the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) was launched. This five year project was initiated to characterize and analyze the role of human microbes in health and disease. The results can help not only with methods to optimize health but they also can potentially help with identifying predisposition and susceptibility to disease. It is important to be aware of both the good and the harmful microorganisms in our environment that have an influence on our overall health.

References:

  1. http://www.purenewyou.com/shop/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=162
  2. http://www.safewater.org/PDFS/resourcesknowthefacts/Disease  Causing  Micro  Org.pdf
  3. World Health Organization: www.who.int
  4. http://commonfund.nih.gov/hmp/overview.aspx
  5. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/pictures/110303-zombie-ants-fungus-new-species-fungi-bugs-science-brazil/
  6. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1386717/Why-zombie-ants-infected-mind-controlling-fungus-kill-high-noon.html
  7. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3335463/