How Many Friends Do You Have? I’ve Got a Few Trillion.

The next time you feel lonely, remember this: you always have a few friends with you. No, not your Tweeple, your bacteria.

You have lots of them with you at all times; so many in fact, you’re like a walking planet. There are far more microbes living in and on you then there are people on earth! According to an article in The Economist, there are 100 trillion microbes living with you — 10 times the number of cells you actually have (so technically, you’re 90% bacteria, 10% human).

We are only now starting to comprehend the importance of this relationship with our lowly microbe friends. The disease model used to be simple: If you are infected with bacteria, you are sick. If you are bacteria free, then you are healthy. Not so anymore.

In fact, it is probably more true that losing a few billion of your bacterial friends leads to sickness, rather than to health. A better health model is that it’s not important to be free of bacteria to be healthy; rather it is important to have the right balance of microorganisms living with you to be disease free.

The first place we are likely to see the importance of healthy bacteria in skin disease is in eczema. Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a chronic itchy rash that often occurs in childhood and can last for years. It appears that one of the problems in patients with eczema is that they have an overgrowth of unwanted bacteria and a loss of other, good or healthy bacteria. Restoring this bacterial balance might ironically calm the immune system, improving eczema.

Look for new therapies in the upcoming new year such as creams and probiotic pills that don’t kill bacteria, but rather give you good bacteria. Future technologies will likely be able to detect imbalances of bacteria to diagnose disease and to foster health. It’s also another example of how Eastern medicine, with its principles of balance and natural remedies, might have gotten it right all along.

Photo: Tom@HK flickr.com