Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 6th 2015 Contents A28
body & soul
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Wednesday, May 6, 2015
Our modern lifestyle is often blamed for the
explosion in conditions like asthma, diabetes and
obesity---but the evidence that our predecessors
didn t suffer such ailments has been hard to come
In 2008 a military helicopter chanced upon a pre-
viously uncharted group of huts in the remote Ama-
zonas region in southern Venezuela, home to 15,000
Yanomami people. Thought to have been completely
isolated since their ancestors arrived in South America
after the last ice age, the semi-nomadic hunter-gath-
erers have never been exposed to modern civilisa-
tion---therefore neither have their guts.
The community hunts for small birds and mammals
as well as frogs and fish and the occasional tapir.
They also eat wild bananas, plantain and cassava.
Water is collected from
a stream about five
minutes walking dis-
tance from the village.
team of scientists has
studied the group to
see what micro-
lived in and on them.
cause disease but most
are completely harm-
less and essential to
our life. The microbes
we are born with---
which mainly come
from our mother s
birth canal---form the basis of our lifelong microbiome.
We are literally covered in them, inside and out.
But modern life can alter the microbial composition.
The use of antibiotics, processed foods and soap may
have led to less diversity in our microbes, according
to Dr Gautam Dantas from the Washington University
School of Medicine, one of the researchers who has
studied the Yanomami people.
Dr Dantas, whose work is published in Microbial
Ecology, says it seems a reasonable hypothesis to
relate this behaviour to an increase in "newer" diseases
like asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes.
Maria-Gloria Dominguez-Bello from the New York
University School of Medicine has analysed microbes
from this group and compared them with modern,
Western people s. Dr Dominguez-Bello believes infancy
is an important "window" for the immune system
to be primed, when it can learn which are the good
microbes and which ones to fight off.
She says American infants have, on average, two
courses of antibiotics in the first year of life---and
one in three of those children will have been delivered
by Caesarean section---one in two if they happen to
be born in Brazil.
Dr Dominguez-Bello says: "If you upset the good
bacteria, it might well be that the immune system
of that baby will be ill-educated and respond wrongly
to other agents and bacteria."
The Yanomami people agreed to have the microbes
in their mouths, on their skin and in their faeces
analysed by the international research team.
40 per cent more diverse
Dr Dominguez-Bellow was surprised by some of
the findings---the microbes from their skin and gut
were 40 per cent more diverse than those of modern,
"In the intestine they have a diversity that really
shocked us, which we think are providing a lot of
important roles in digestion and in communicating
with our immune system.
"We want to understand what are the bacteria that
we have lost and what were their functions---and
can we restore them eventually?"
In contrast, the microbes found in the mouths of
Has modern life destroyed our health?
the Yanomami had a similar balance
to those of Western urban dwellers,
something researchers think could result
from their habit of chewing tobacco---
a mild antiseptic---from an early age.
One other surprising finding was
that the microbes from the Yanomami
have antibiotic resistance genes despite
never having encountered modern
antibiotics---although they are not
Dr Dantas said they found half a
dozen resistance genes. He said:
"Antibiotic resistance is a natural feature
of bacteria in the human body. It s not
something created by antibiotic use.
But it does get amplified when antibi-
otics are used."
It was found that the more exposed
a group was to modern life, the less
diverse the microbiome.
He says more research is now needed
to understand the role of these resist-
ance genes. (BBC)
YOUR DAILY HEALTH
News and Advice
The microbes we are
mainly come from our
mother's birth canal---
form the basis of our
lifelong microbiome. We
are literally covered in
them, inside and out.
But modern life can
alter the microbial
composition. The use of
foods and soap may
have led to less
diversity in our
---Dr Gautam Dantas,
School of Medicine
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