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You’re Covered in Fungi. How Does That Affect Your Health?

The potential to uncover complex processes we never realized has made the fungal field tantalizing to medical researchers.

That’s one mystery that scientists are trying to unravel with research into the fungi that live in your gut. While the bacteria that colonize our intestines have been a scientific focus for more than a decade, the fungal critters there are starting to get more attention.

Already, these studies have uncovered striking connections between fungi and several chronic illnesses, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. As is typical in medical science, a simple explanation (A causes B, which can be cured by C) is unlikely.

“It’s a very exciting area of science to be involved in,” said David Underhill, research chair for inflammatory bowel diseases at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. “I think over the next five years, certainly 10 years, we will develop a very different understanding of this area.”

Dr. Underhill’s team is investigating the links between fungi in the gut and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s.

Researchers first became interested in studying the microbiome when advances in DNA technology made it easier to identify microorganisms in and on the human body. Earlier work, Dr. Underhill said, focused mainly on bacteria, because there are far more of them in our bodies, compared with any other type of organism.

There are trillions of bacteria in the digestive tract, and as many as 100 different species. Fungi number in the hundreds of thousands, with just a handful of different species. For years, fungi were given scientific short shrift.

Now, with our understanding of the bacterial microbiome better established, researchers have turned their attention to fungi, what some call the mycobiome. It has quickly become evident that these organisms play a distinct role in our health.

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Posted on: April 13 2019

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