Revelations about the role of the human microbiome in our lives have begun to shake the foundations of medicine and nutrition
The great majority of the microbes live in the gut, particularly the large intestine, which serves as an anaerobic digestion chamber. Scientists are still in the early stages of exploring the gut microbiome, but a burgeoning body of research suggests that the makeup of this complex microbial ecosystem is closely linked with our immune function. Some researchers now suspect that, aside from protecting us from infection, one of the immune system’s jobs is to cultivate, or “farm,” the friendly microbes that we rely on to keep us healthy. This “farming” goes both ways, though. Our resident microbes seem to control aspects of our immune function in a way that suggests they are farming us, too.
Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind. The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain.
“The Cleveland Clinic, one of the country’s top hospitals, is a surprising venue for the dispensing of herbs, a practice that is well established in China and other Eastern countries but has yet to make inroads in the U.S. because of a lack of evidence proving their effectiveness. The herbal clinic, which opened in January, has one herbalist who sees patients on Thursdays. Patients must be referred by a doctor and will be monitored to ensure that there are no drug-herbal interactions or other complications. The herbal clinic is part of the hospital’s Center for Integrative Medicine, whose offerings also include acupunture, holistic psychotherapy and massage therapy.
“Western medicine does acute care phenomenally.… But we’re still struggling a bit with our chronic-care patients and this fills in that gap and can be used concurrently,” says Melissa Young, an integrative medicine physician at Cleveland Clinic.
While acupuncture programs have sprouted across the U.S., there are only a handful of herbal clinics. Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at Northwestern University and NorthShore University HealthSystem, affiliated with the University of Chicago, both include herbal medicine among their offerings.”
a system of complementary medicine that involves pricking the skin or tissues with needles, used to alleviate pain and to treat various physical, mental, and emotional conditions. Originating in ancient China, acupuncture is now widely practiced in the West.