There are 10 times as many microbial cells in humans as there are body cells, however the role of these has been largely overlooked, and until the Human Microbiome Project, a large proportion of them had not even been identified. The Human Microbiome Project was launched in 2007 by the National Institutes of Health with a budget of $170 million.
The project aimed to gather data on types of microbe in 5 areas of the human body, and through this, to characterise the microbiome. However, the project found that there is no ‘typical’ or ‘normal’ microbiome, as each individual’s is so personalised and there is huge variation between them. For example there was no single bacterium found in every person.
The collected data is now being used to identify correlations and to study the impact of the microbiome on development, physiology, immunity and nutrition. The influence of environmental and genetic factors on the microbiome will also be studied, for example, the effect of age, location and ethnicity.
This study involved healthy patients, but the impact of the microbiome on disease is an area requiring further study.
There have been claims that the human microbiome could influence health in many ways, such as through obesity and autism and Crohn’s disease.
Researchers claim that bacteria in our digestive system could help prevent allergies, and a better understanding could lead to treatments. This has been stated following new research that found bacteria in mice could prevent peanut allergies. The bacteria prevent the substance from being taken into the blood and therefore an immune response does not occur.
As well as this research, a recent BBC documentary highlighted the importance of the gut bacteria in preventing allergies, and suggested that the dramatic increase in allergies that has taken place could be due to our reduced exposure to bacteria. The main cause of the problem could therefore be people spending a larger proportion of time indoors, but the use of antibiotics in infants under 1 year old, and the use of formula milk instead of breast milk could also be worsening the problem.
On average Britons eat around 11kg of chocolate per year, and Americans collectively eat 100 pounds of chocolate every second!
So why do we like chocolate so much?
• Eating chocolate causes the release of neurotransmitters and other chemicals into the brain, such as:
-Endorphins – which reduce pain and stress
-Serotonin – which is an anti-depressant
-Phenylethylamine – which causes excitement and alertness by affecting the blood pressure and blood-sugar levels
-Anandamide – which causes the production of dopamine, causing relaxation
-Theobromine – acts as a stimulant, similar to caffeine, increasing alertness
• It is also thought that chocolate contains alkaloid compounds which are the chemicals linked to alcoholism, and may explain its addictive effect.
Unfortunately an average chocolate bar is around 60% sugar. However, there are may surprising health benefits of Dark Chocolate:
• Can help lower blood pressure, improve blood flow and prevent blood clotting. Studies have found that eating dark chocolate every day can reduce the risk of heart disease by one third.
• Can increase blood flow to the brain, increasing cognitive function and reducing the risk of a stroke
• Helps control blood-sugar levels
• High in antioxidants
• Contains vitamins and minerals (such as Potassium, Copper, Magnesium and Iron)
• Has an antibacterial effect on the mouth, preventing tooth decay