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This research supports the growing evidence for the importance of microbes in the health of young children. From Science Daily:

Pediatric allergology: Fresh milk keeps infections at bay

A study by researchers of Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich shows that infants fed on fresh rather than UHT (ultra-pasteurized) cow's milk are less prone to infection. 

A pan-European study, led by Professor Erika von Mutius, Professor of Pediatric Allergology at LMU and Head of the Asthma and Allergy Department at Dr. von Hauner's Children's Hospital, reports that fresh cow's milk protects young children from respiratory infections, febrile illness and inflammation of the middle earAs untreated cow's milk may itself contain pathogenic microorganisms and could pose a health risk, the researchers argue for the use of processing methods that preserve the protective agents present in raw milk.

The findings are the latest to emerge from the long-term PASTURE study, which is exploring the role of dietary and environmental factors in the development of allergic illness. The study initially recruited 1000 pregnant women who were asked to document their children's diet and state of health at weekly intervals during the first year of life. "Among children who were fed on fresh, unprocessed cow's milk the incidence of head colds and other respiratory infections, febrile and middle-ear inflammation was found to be significantly lower than in the group whose milk ration consisted of the commercially processed ultra-pasteurized product," says Dr. Georg Loss.Ingestion of farm milk reduced the risk of developing these conditions by up to 30%, and the effect was diminished if the milk was heated at home before consumption. Conventionally pasteurized milk retained the ability to reduce the risk of febrile illness, while exposure to the higher temperatures used in UHT processing eliminated the effect altogether. 

"The effects of diverse milk treatments are presumably attributable to differentially heat-resistant components present in fresh milk. Compounds that are sensitive to heating seem to play a particularly important role in protection against respiratory-tract and ear infections," says Loss.

At the end of the first year of life, blood samples were obtained from the children enrolled in the study, and tested for biochemical indicators of immunological function. Infants fed on unprocessed milk were found to have lower levels of the C-reactive protein, which is a measure of inflammation status. "Other studies have shown that higher levels of inflammation are related to the subsequent emergence of chronic conditions such as asthma and obesity. Consumption of unprocessed milk may therefore reduce the risk of developing asthma," Loss explains.

Industrial processing of milk involves short-term heating of the raw product. Conventionally pasteurized milk has been exposed to temperatures of 72-75°C for 15 seconds, while ultra-pasteurized milk undergoes heating at around 135°C for a few seconds. The latter is also homogenized to disperse the milk fats, which prevents the formation of cream. 

In addition to fats and carbohydrates, cow's milk contains proteins that can modulate the function of the immune system. "In many respects, the composition of cow's milk is similar to that of human milk," says Loss. It has long been known that breast-feeding protects infants from infection, although how milk actually affects the early immune function remains unclear. It is possible that some of the factors involved interact directly with viruses or that they promote the development of a healthy immune system by altering the composition of the gut microflora.

That living in the country has positive effects on the immune system has been demonstrated in several previous studies. Together these investigations show, as Erika von Mutius notes, that "children who grow up on traditional dairy farms are least likely to develop allergies.

The possibilities are exciting. See my earlier posts on psychobiotics for more information. From Medical Xpress:

How gut bacteria ensures a healthy brain – and could play a role in treating depression

But medicine in the 21st century is rethinking its relationship with bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the human gut, where the microbiome  – the collection of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract - plays a complex and critical role in the health of its host.

The microbiome interacts with and influences organ systems throughout the body, including, as research is revealing, the brain. This discovery has led to a surge of interest in potential gut-based treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders and a new class of studies investigating how the gut and its microbiome affect both healthy and diseased brains.

The lives of the bacteria in our gut are intimately entwined with our immune, endocrine and nervous systems. The relationship goes both ways: the microbiome influences the function of these systems, which in turn alter the activity and composition of the bacterial community. We are starting to unravel this complexity and gain insight into how gut bacteria interface with the rest of the body and, in particular, how they affect the brain.

The microbiome-immune system link is established early on. Over the first year of life, bacteria populate the gut, which is largely sterile at birth, and the developing immune system learns which bacteria to consider normal residents of the body and which to attack as invaders. This early learning sets the stage for later immune responses to fluctuations in the microbiome's composition.

When a normally scarce strain becomes too abundant or a pathogenic species joins the community of gut bacteria, the resulting response by the immune system can have wide-reaching effects. Depression has been linked with elevated levels of such molecules in some individuals, suggesting that treatments that alter the composition of the microbiome could alleviate symptoms of this disorder.

Such an intervention could potentially be achieved using either prebiotics – substances that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria – or probiotics – live cultures of these bacteria. It is even possible that the microbiome could be manipulated by dietary changes.

In one experiment, researchers transplanted the human microbiome into germ-free mice (animals that have no gut bacteria) in order to study it in a controlled setting. They found that, simply by changing the carbohydrate and fat content of the mice's food, they could alter basic cellular functions and gene expression in the microbiome.

Depression is not the only psychiatric disorder in which the microbiome may play a role.Research in rodents, as well as a few preliminary studies in humans, indicate that the state of our resident microbes is tied to our anxiety levels.

This research also reveals the complexity of the relationship between the microbiome and psychological state. ...Researchers have shown that the presence or absence of microbes in young mice affects the sensitivity of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis – a key pathway in the body's stress response system. The activity of the microbiome during development thus sways how we respond to future stressors and how much anxiety they cause us.

How do the bacteria in our gut wield such influence over our brains and bodies? The mechanisms of microbiome-host interactions appear to be as numerous and varied as the interactions themselves.

Maybe bacteria are involved in Multiple sclerosis (MS). From Scientific American:

Could Multiple Sclerosis Begin in the Gut?

MS researchers are focusing on the content of the gut’s microbiome as a possible contributor to the body’s autoimmune attack on its nervous system.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an electrical disorder, or rather one of impaired myelin, a fatty, insulating substance that better allows electric current to bolt down our neurons and release the neurotransmitters that help run our bodies and brains. Researchers have speculated for some time that the myelin degradation seen in MS is due, at least in part, to autoimmune activity against the nervous system. Recent work presented at the MS Boston 2014 Meeting suggests that this aberrant immune response begins in the gut.

Eighty percent of the human immune system resides in the gastrointestinal tract. Alongside it are the trillions of symbiotic bacteria, fungi and other single-celled organisms that make up our guts’ microbiomes. Normally everyone wins: The microorganisms benefit from a home and a steady food supply; we enjoy the essential assistance they provide in various metabolic and digestive functions. Our microbiomes also help calibrate our immune systems, so our bodies recognize which co-inhabitants should be there and which should not. Yet mounting evidence suggests that when our resident biota are out of balance, they contribute to numerous diseases, including diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, autism and, it appears, MS by inciting rogue immune activity that can spread throughout the body and brain.

One study presented at the conference, out of Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), reported a single-celled organism called methanobrevibacteriaceae that activates the immune system is enriched in the gastrointestinal tracts of MS patients whereas bacteria that suppress immune activity are depleted. Other work, which resulted from a collaboration among 10 academic researcher centers across the U.S. and Canada, reported significantly altered gut flora in pediatric MS patients while a group of Japanese researchers found that yeast consumption reduced the chances of mice developing an MS-like disease by altering gut flora.

Sushrut Jangi, a staff physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston who co-authored the BWH study, thinks that regional dietary influences might even be at play. “The biomes of people living in different areas and who consume Western versus non-Western diets are demonstratively different,” he says. “People who emigrate from non-Western countries, including India, where MS rates are low, consequently develop a high risk of disease in the U.S. One idea to explain this is that the biome may shift from an Indian biome to an American biome,” although there is not yet data to support this theory.

The microbiome theory is gaining so much steam in academia that a coalition of four U.S. research centers called the MS Microbiome Consortium recently formed to investigate the role of gut microorganisms in the disease. The group presented data in Boston showing significantly different gastrointestinal bacterial populations in patients treated with the MS drug glatiramer acetate compared with untreated subjects. How exactly the drug suppresses MS activity is unknown but the findings suggest that perhaps it works in part by altering gut flora and, as a result, suppressing abnormal immune activity. “But important questions remain, such as how MS medications affect the microbiome, how an individual’s microbiome may affect treatment responses, whether particular bacterial species are associated with more severe disease and ultimately whether we can manipulate the microbiome to benefit our patients.”

Katz Sand says that dietary and probiotic approaches to treating MS are worth pursuing, as is a less palatable approach: fecal transplantation.Yet answers in science and medicine are rarely simple, she added, pointing out that in all likelihood MS arises from a complicated confluence of genetic and environmental influences that might ultimately trigger autoimmune activity. Beyond just our gut flora well over 100 genetic variants —many related to immune function—are now known to contribute to the disease as are external factors including vitamin D deficiency  (MS is more common at higher latitudes), smoking and increased salt intake.