As humans, we all have trillions of microbes that live in and on our bodies. The “germs” (bacteria, viruses, fungi) present in and on a person are collectively known as a microbiome.
Growing up, many of us were taught that bacteria and other germs are evil things — that they cause infections and should be exterminated with antibiotics when they get unruly.
But what if this traditional way of thinking about germs is wrong? What if our bodies depend on having a healthy, diverse microbiome to maintain good health? And what if taking antibiotics too often can harm our microbiomes and our health?
Many of the microbes in our bodies actually serve very important purposes. For example, a type of bacteria called lactobacillus — which lives in our digestive system — helps convert food into important B vitamins.
Bacteria in our stomachs also produce around 95% of our body’s serotonin, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). Serotonin is a critically important neurotransmitter used by our brains and nervous systems. Here’s an interesting excerpt from an APA paper.
Gut bacteria also produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. For example, gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of the body’s supply of serotonin, which influences both mood and GI activity.
Certain forms of bacteria have evolved with us over millions of years. Over time we have developed a symbiotic relationship with these microbes where both parties benefit.
When we take antibiotics, it can wipe out the good bacteria along with the bad. Sometimes the bad bacteria is already resistant to the antibiotic, because it has been treated with it before. In those cases, the bad bacteria won’t have much left to compete with, and it will rise to dangerous levels.
Tuning the Microbiome, Not Wiping it Out
I’m not saying antibiotics are bad. They are necessary in many cases. But they are extremely overused. The problem of antibiotic resistance is likely to get worse as the world uses increasing amounts of these drugs.
I believe the answer to these problems lies in treating the microbiome differently. Rather than just killing bacteria, we will increasingly introduce new bacteria to balance out the system naturally.
The biggest success story so far from microbial medicine is a bit… gross… in nature. It’s fecal transplants (FT). Yes, poop transplants.
In patients with C. difficile-associated disease — a nasty infection — this procedure can be a life saver. Here’s an excerpt from Medical News Today which explains how it works (emphasis is mine).
Doctors primarily use fecal transplants to treat C. difficile-associated disease (CDAD). In the United States, CDAD kills about 15,000 people each year, often due to severe colon inflammation.
Research consistently finds that fecal transplants are highly effective in treating this dangerous condition.
In a small-scale 2014 trial, 70% of the participants had no symptoms after one fecal transplant treatment. The overall cure rate was 90% among those who underwent multiple treatments.
FT from a person with a healthy microbiome appears to do wonders for CDAD and other digestive conditions such as IBS. It successfully restores a healthy, diverse microbiome in the colon for most patients. And that keeps the bad bacteria in check. No antibiotics needed.
We are just beginning to explore what’s possible with microbiome-based medicine. But I believe the potential for this industry is absolutely massive. It has the capability to treat infections, digestive issues, skin problems and possibly even mental conditions like depression.
I believe that over the coming years, we will begin to look at our microbiome much differently. I hope we begin to see it as an asset, an ally. Something we can tune to optimize our health.
As an investor, I am constantly on the lookout for interesting microbiome opportunities. I’ve been researching a few interesting publicly traded stocks in the space. There are some promising ones out there.
But most of the really intriguing stuff seems to be happening on the private startup side. One promising company I recently discovered is Boost Biomes. Boost aims to revolutionize the agricultural world with its microbial products. Its goals include controlling disease and expanding yield by applying relevant microbiomes to crops.
There’s a whole world of interesting companies working with the microbiome out there. I’m looking forward to covering this powerful trend more frequently going forward.