Well, to sum it all up, my week in Moscow was a remarkable experience in so many different ways. The city is magnificent – one of those places that is so saturated in history, that it permeates everything. You feel it in your bones. I strolled through Red Square, explored the Kremlin, glared at the tomb of Ivan the Terrible, wept (because I’m a mush ball) in Tchaikovsky’s home as I listened to his first piano concerto, took selfies in the Tretyakov Gallery with portraits of Tolstoy and Mussorgsky, bravo-ed the Bolshoi Ballet at the Bolshoi Theater, realized I’d like a Faberge egg of my own, feasted on blinis (‘cause my microbiome demanded it of me), and, in general, tried to be as Russian as humanely possible for the week.
And so there I was, in the Alexander Gardens, outside the Kremlin wall, when what do I see but this:
What came to mind – me being me (and intestinal inhabitants never being from from mind) – was the study[i] from last year comparing the microbiomes of children from Finland, Estonia and Russian Karelia, a Russian republic (in the style of the old USSR) in that borders these two other countries. (marked in red below)
“These three geographically and genetically relatively similar countries vary greatly in terms of standard of living and prevalence of immune-mediated diseases. For example, type 1 diabetes and certain other immune-mediated disorders are approximately six times rarer in Russian Karelia than they are in Finland.”[ii]
Sure enough, the Karelian children’s microbiomes varied greatly from those of their neighbors, with way more immune-stimulating bacterial species. As with helminths, such stimulation leads to a far more immune-regulated state. In animal studies, the bacteria that were prevalent in the Karelian children have been shown, for example, to protect against the development of Type 1 diabetes in genetically susceptible mice.
Well, the Muscovites – unlike their fellow Karelian compatriots – have unfortunately enthusiastically adopted our garbage food (there wasn’t an empty seat in the Golden Aches).
And thus, I was there (along with Dr. William Parker, who covered the microbiome) to talk about the macrobiome to hundreds of parents of children with autism.
I just hope they listen.
[i] Vatanen T, Siljander H, Hämäläinen AM, Ilonen J, Virtanen SM, Lähdesmäki H, Knip M, and Xavier RJ. Variation in microbiome LPS immunogenicity contributes to autoimmunity in humans. Cell 2016; 165: 28 April, 2016 (online).