My Trip to Moscow

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.

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And so there I was, in the Alexander Gardens, outside the Kremlin wall, when what do I see but this:IMG_20170425_144646345_HDR.jpg

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)

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“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.

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[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).

[ii] https://www.helsinki.fi/en/news/early-childhood-gut-microbiome-shapes-immune-defence


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