Managing bacteria and other microorganisms in the body, rather than just fighting them, may be lead to better health and a stronger immune system, according to a Penn State biologist.
Researchers have historically focused on microbes in the body as primarily pathogens that must be fought, said Eric Harvill, professor of microbiology and infectious disease. However, he said that recent evidence of the complex interaction of the body with microbes suggests a new interpretation of the relationship.
"Now we are beginning to understand that the immune system interacts with far more beneficial bacteria than pathogens," said Harvill. "We need to re-envision what the true immune system really is."
Harvill said that this reinterpretation leads to a more flexible approach to understanding how the immune system interacts with microbes. This approach should balance between defending against pathogens and enlisting the help of beneficial microbes.
While the role that some bacteria play in aiding digestion is better known, microbes assist in improving body functions, including strengthening the immune system and responding to injuries.
In some cases, attacking pathogens can harm the beneficial effects microbes have on immune system, according to Harvill. For example, patients on antibiotics have an increased risk of contracting yeast infections and MRSA.
"Viewing everything currently considered immunity, including both resistance and tolerance, as aspects of a complex microbiome management system that mediates interactions with the sea of microbes that surround us, many of which are beneficial, can provide a much more positive outlook and different valuable perspectives," Harvill said.
The system that includes bacteria and other microbes in the human body, or the microbiome, is much larger and more integrated into human health than most people suspect, according to Harvill.
"The human body has ten times more bacterial cells than human
|Contact: Matthew Swayne|