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Only on SkinInc.com: The Value of pH Balancing and Probiotics for Healthy Skin

Posted: October 19, 2011

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At this point, most have heard the term "probiotic" or have noticed the words "lactobacillus" and "acidophilus" listed on dairy products--particularly yogurt containers. But did you know that about two hundred trillion of these microscopic organisms--bacteria, viruses and fungi--are swarming inside you right now and are part of a vast organism called a microbiome?

A microbiome is, in essence, the sum collection of all the microbes found in or on people. Currently, about 9 million adults in America are taking probiotics in one form or another. It has built up to a billion-dollar industry. Results are as difficult to predict as the actual microbiome is hard to understand and unravel, but some tests have shown dramatic results. In the Intensive Care Nursery at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, the Preemie Microbiome Project has become an important step in understanding how a healthy, balanced microbiome is achieved in the first place. Researchers know that infants acquire about 100 species of microbes in the birth canal and others come from the mother’s skin after birth. Microbes can also be found in the mouth, lungs, between the toes and eyelashes, and even living in and around belly buttons. The nose, mouth and eyes are also obvious entry points for germs. Tears and mucus contain an enzyme (lysozyme) that breaks down the cell wall of many bacteria. Saliva is also antibacterial. Since the nasal passage and lungs are coated in mucus, many germs not killed immediately are trapped in the mucus and soon swallowed. So your body has a regular artillery of defenses that it would seem logical to support as much as possible. Scientists feel that understanding and controlling the diversity of germs could be the key to a range of future medical treatments, as well as maintaining general health; diversity provides resilience in the body as it does in the environment and local communities.

Biologists at Washington University in St. Louis have done studies that suggest that the microbiome may play a significant role in affecting the ability of the body to digest properly, extract energy from food and to deposit it as fat; it has long been thought that the gut is the seat of the immune system. Imbalances in the microbiome in this part of the body might be linked, for example, to allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, Krohn's disease, diabetes, obesity and generally poor digestion. So it is becoming clear that managing the microbiome might be far more preferable to pummeling it with antibiotics. Which of course brings up the issue of the increased use of antibiotics, not only through prescription, but also in the food chain--especially in chicken and cattle feed.

It has been established that continued use of antibiotics will eradicate certain strains of friendly bacteria that never fully repopulate in certain areas of the body. So recommend that your clients buy organic as much as possible. In the fullness of time, it will be understood how genetic makeup, lifestyle, health and disease influence the metabolic composition of the gut, and how this, in turn, influences--and is influenced by--the gut microbiome. And perhaps the next time you feel yourself getting hungry, or are feeling lethargic, you might ask yourself whether it’s really you, or is it the residents of your gut? As scientist Lynn Margulis commented in the April 2011 edition of Discover magazine,”We couldn’t live without bacteria. They maintain our ecological physiology. There are vitamins in bacteria that we cannot live without. The movement of gas and feces would never take place without bacteria. There are hundreds of ways our bodies wouldn’t work without them. Bacteria are our ancestors.”

As any good esthetician knows, the skin is an important part of the body’s immune system and will reflect inner stress and poor lifestyle choices. Topically, the skin produces antimicrobial peptides that keep bacteria in check. But when certain conditions are present, such as psoriasis, acne, atopic dermatitis and rosacea, the skin’s defenses are over-ridden, and bacteria and fungi proliferate. Harsh cleansers, highly acidic formulas and prescription medications, both oral and topical, often exacerbate the problem, so correct analysis and product recommendations at this stage are vital.