The importance of the microbiota that colonize and comprise us

The human body is a habitat for a huge range of harmless and beneficial microbes, which may be the key to fighting disease without antibiotics.

[... In the intensive care nursery at Duke University Medical Center, neo natologist Susan] LaTuga is one of several medical researchers at Duke working with microbial ecologists to study the development of the human microbiome the enormous population of microbes, including bacteria, fungi, and viruses, that live in the human body, predominantly in the gut. There are 20 times as many of these microbes as there are cells in the body, up to 200 trillion in an adult, and each of us hosts at least 1,000 different species. Seen through the prism of the microbiome, a person is not so much an individual human body as a superorganism made up of diverse ecosystems, each teeming with microscopic creatures that are essential to our well-being. "Our hope is that if we can understand the normal microbial communities of healthy babies, then we can manipulate unhealthy ones," LaTuga says.

Human Microbiome Project

Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract

The Duke study is just one of many projects begun in the past five years that use genetic sequencing to explore how the diversity of the microbiome impacts our health. Two of the largest efforts are the Human Microbiome Project, funded by the National Institutes of Health [see "Your Microbial Menagerie", below] and the European Union's Metagenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract. Although these groups have only just begun to publish their findings, it is already clear that the micro biome is much more complex and very likely more critical to human health than anyone suspected. Understanding and controlling the diversity of our germs, as opposed to assaulting them with anti biotics, could be the key to a range of future medical treatments. [...]

"The classical view of infectious disease is that a single organism invades and produces an infection," [says Patrick Seed, a Duke pediatrician specializing in infectious disease], "But then we found that certain diseases, like irritable bowel syndrome, seem to be caused by imbalances in the organisms that communicate with the host. So then people asked, 'Why is this not the case for many other states of human health?'" Preliminary work by other groups, similarly made up of both biomedical researchers and microbial ecologists, suggests that imbalances in the microbiome might also be linked to allergies, diabetes, and obesity. [...]

Microbiome studies run directly against the notion in the minds of most people even many researchers that microbes are linked to disease, not to health. And of course not all microorganisms are benign. Infants in particular are susceptible to a number of diseases caused by gastrointestinal bacteria, including sepsis, chronic diarrhea, and necrotizing enterocolitis, an infection of the intestinal lining that is one of the leading causes of death in premature babies. Antibiotics have long been the first option in fighting these dangerous microbes, but many researchers are troubled by modern medicine's heavy reliance on them. After all, many pathogens found within the human microbiome are harmless or even beneficial. "There is Staphylococcus and E. coli in all of us, but they don't always cause problems," Jackson says. "It's the balance that is important. A more normal population of microbes in the gut can offset the bad players." [...]

Heavy use of antibiotics can lead to antibiotic resistance, but researchers now speculate that antibiotics can also upset the balance of the microbial community, allowing disease to take over rather than fighting it. Michael Cotten, another neonatologist on the Duke project, analyzed the duration of antibiotic therapy given to 4,039 premature babies at 19 treatment centers across the country and found that prolonged use of the drugs is associated with increased risk of necrotizing enterocolitis and death. Anti biotics probably also prevent beneficial bacterial communities from forming in infants.

[In 2008] Stanford microbiologist David Relman published a study that illustrated the potentially devastating impact of antibiotics on the microbiome. He gave three healthy adults a five-day course of the antibiotic Cipro, then another course six months later, and monitored the state of the microbiome after each treatment. The gut flora of all three subjects gradually recovered from the impact of the antibiotic treatment, but never returned to their original state they had different compositions and were less diverse. "We don't know if these differences matter to health," Relman says. "But in general, you'd be concerned about a change." He had chosen Cipro because it has limited effectiveness against most species of bacteria in the gut, but it still affected one-third to one-half of the microbial flora in the subjects. "Knocking out one organism could have a ripple effect on the lives of others," Relman says.

This is especially concerning given that the number of different microbial species in the intestines may be important in countering pathogens. "The greater the diversity, the lower the probability that pathogens can invade and persist," says Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York. "If all the niches are taken up in the gut, it might be hard for them to get hold."

Jackson puts it more bluntly. "When you use antibiotics, you are essentially dropping a bomb on a microbial community, hoping that your explosion will not harm anything useful," he says. "It's like setting a forest fire in order to control the weeds. What we're suggesting is to carefully manipulate the members of the community and the relationships between them, rather than wiping them out." [...]
Read the full article

Microbial colonization of mammals is an evolution-driven process that modulate host physiology, many of which are associated with immunity and nutrient intake. Here, we report that colonization by gut microbiota impacts mammalian brain development and subsequent adult behavior. Using measures of motor activity and anxiety-like behavior, we demonstrate that germ free (GF) mice display increased motor activity and reduced anxiety, compared with specific pathogen free (SPF) mice with a normal gut microbiota. This behavioral phenotype is associated with altered expression of genes known to be involved in second messenger pathways and synaptic long-term potentiation in brain regions implicated in motor control and anxiety-like behavior. GF mice exposed to gut microbiota early in life display similar characteristics as SPF mice, including reduced expression of PSD-95 and synaptophysin in the striatum. Hence, our results suggest that the microbial colonization process initiates signaling mechanisms that affect neuronal circuits involved in motor control and anxiety behavior.

Early life environmental influences have a profound impact on the organism's later development, structure, and function. This phenomenon is called "developmental programming," a process whereby an environmental factor acting during a sensitive or vulnerable developmental period exerts effects that impact on structure and function of organs that, in some cases, will persist throughout life (1). One such environmental factor is the gut microbiota that, because of an evolutionary process, has adapted to coexist in commensal or symbiotic relationship with mammals (2). Immediately after birth, the newborn organism is rapidly and densely populated with complex forms of indigenous microbes. This process has been shown to contribute to developmental programming of epithelial barrier function, gut homeostasis, and angiogenesis, as well as the innate and host adaptive immune function (3, 4). Recent data indicate that gut microbiota have systemic effects on liver function (5 7), thus raising the possibility that gut microbiota can have developmental effects in other organs elsewhere in the body.

The functional development of the mammalian brain is of particular interest because it has been shown to be susceptible to both internal and external environmental cues during perinatal life. Epidemiological studies have indicated an association between common neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism and schizophrenia, and microbial pathogen infections during the perinatal period (8, 9). These findings are supported by experimental studies in rodents, demonstrating that exposure to microbial pathogens during similar developmental periods result in behavioral abnormalities, including anxiety-like behavior and impaired cognitive function (10 12). In a recent study, it was shown that the commensal bacteria, Bifidobacteria infantis, could modulate tryptophan metabolism, suggesting that the normal gut microbiota can influence the precursor pool for serotonin (5-HT) (13). [...]

The human superorganism is a conglomerate of mammalian and microbial cells, with the latter estimated to outnumber the former by ten to one and the microbial genetic repertoire (microbiome) to be approximately 100-times greater than that of the human host. Given the ability of the immune response to rapidly counter infectious agents, it is striking that such a large density of microbes can exist in a state of synergy within the human host. This is particularly true of the distal gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which houses up to 1000 distinct bacterial species and an estimated excess of 1 1014 microorganisms. An ever-increasing body of evidence implicates the GI microbiota in defining states of health and disease. Here, we review the literature in adult and pediatric GI microbiome studies, the emerging links between microbial community structure, function, infection and disease, and the approaches to manipulate this crucial ecosystem to improve host health.

Table 1: Diseases and disorders associated
with human gut microbiome aberrations
Table 1: Diseases and disorders associated with human gut microbiome aberrations

Key issues

  • The gastrointestinal microbiome is associated with host health status.
  • Structure and composition of the microbiome defines functional gene expression of the community, pathogen abundance and physiology, and the host response.
  • Prenatal and early postnatal microbial exposures impact immune response development and define predisposition to the development of inflammatory diseases.
  • Specific microbes have demonstrated roles in immune response modulation.
  • Manipulation of the microbiome through pro-, pre- or synbiotic supplementation may prove an alternative approach for improving host health status.

Depiction of the human body and bacteria that predominate; there are both tremendous similarities and differences among the bacterial species found at different sites.

Credit: Darryl Leja, NHGRI (29.05.09) enlarge

Topographical and temporal diversity of the human skin microbiome.
Grice EA, Kong HH, Conlan S, Deming CB, Davis J, Young AC; NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, Bouffard GG, Blakesley RW, Murray PR, Green ED, Turner ML, Segre JA.
Science. 2009 May 29;324(5931):1190-2.

Your Microbial Menagerie

Two hundred trillion microscopic organisms bacteria, viruses, and fungi are swarming inside you right now. The largest collection, weighing as much as four pounds in total, clings to your gut, but your skin also hosts more than a million microbes per square centimeter. One population thrives among the hair follicles on your scalp, while an entirely different one resides in the crook of your elbow. About 1,000 species can live in the human mouth, where different sides of the same tooth sustain distinctly different combinations of bugs.

Surprisingly little is known about these invisible communities and how they affect us. In 2007 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Human Microbiome Project, a $115 million initiative exploring the bugs that exist in the human body, whether people all share a core population of such organisms, and how changes in microbial ecosystems influence human health and disease. In 2009 NIH geneticist Julie Segre published a study showing that physiologically comparable parts of the body host similar microbial ecologies, whereas contrasting areas say sweaty underarms and dry forearms have drastically different communities. "My scalp community is much more similar to your scalp than to my own back. That's because bacteria thrive in particular environments," Segre says. For instance, she notes, the face is ideal for Propionibacterium acnes, a bug that thrives on the oily, waxy remains of dead cells. People often associate P. acnes with acne problems, but it also breaks down oils into a natural moisturizer for the skin. [...] Amy Barth


HEARING VOICES:  A Common Human Experience

HEARING VOICES: A Common Human Experience

Although hearing voices is often considered a hallmark of madness it is actually a rather common experience. While "voices" are a prominent symptom of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia they can, also, occur in many other contexts. Many well-adjusted individuals have had at least one memorable voice experience and some people have them regularly. While some experiences are disturbing, others provide comfort, reassurance and guidance. Benign inner voices often occur in association with non-ordinary states of consciousness, mystical and paranormal phenomena, near-death experiences and shamanic practices and may serve as a vehicle for creative inspiration, extrasensory communication, the call of vocation and spiritual revelation. HEARING VOICES ventures beyond conventional psychiatric therapies whose sole aim is symptom eradication to explore ways of working creatively with voices and other inner experiences to foster personal growth, healing and recovery. Included is: - A detailed description of a wide variety of voice hearing experiences - An overview of the theories accounting for how and why this happens - A range of practical techniques for coping with voices - Guidelines for applying spiritual discernment to hearing voices - Strategies for optimising the personal value of voice hearing experiences.
— deep books ltd


The Wahls Way — A nutritional treatment for MS

TEDxIowaCity - Dr. Terry Wahls - Minding Your Mitochondria

In 2003 Terry Wahls MD was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis and soon became dependent upon a tilt-recline wheelchair. After developing and using the Wahls Protocol , she is now able to walk through the hospital and commute to work by bicycle. She now uses intensive directed nutrition in her primary care and traumatic brain injury clinics. Dr. Wahls is the lead scientist in a clinical trial testing her protocol in others with progressive MS.

Eating the Wahls Way
Here are three simple food rules to follow to ensure you will have enough building blocks on hand for optimal function of your brain and reduced risk of excessive inflammation.

  1. Eat 9 cups of vegetables and fruit (3 green, 3 sulfur, 3 color) to ensure you have enough B vitamins, minerals (sulfur, iodine, magnesium), antioxidants, and essential fats through food (greens, seafood, grass fed meat, game, wild fish, flax, walnuts)
  2. Reduce food allergy risk (go gluten-free and dairy-free)
  3. Eat organic, locally grown foods and grow more of your own[...]

In the fall of 2007, I had an important epiphany. What if I redesigned my diet so that I was getting those important brain nutrients not from supplements but from the foods I ate? It took more time to create this new diet, intensive directed nutrition, which I designed to provide optimal nutrition for my brain. At that time, I also learned about neuromuscular electrical stimulation and convinced my physical therapist to give me a test session. It hurt, a lot, but I also felt euphoric when it was finished, likely because of the endorphins my body released in response to the electrical stimulation. In December 2007, I began my intensive directed nutrition along with a program of progressive exercise, electrical stimulation, and daily meditation. The results stunned my physician, my family and me: within a year, I was able to walk through the hospital without a cane and even complete an 18-mile bicycle tour. [Read More]

Terry Wahls MD, Department of Internal Medicine: The University of Iowa

Multiple studies have shown the way to improve health and minimize chronic health problems, including mental problems, is by eating more vegetables. The studies that added vitamins or supplements and did not change the eating pattern have much less benefit than the studies that relied on food. For that reason, I advocate that everyone eat more greens, more sulfur and more color. |

Dr. Terry Wahls links micronutrient starvation to the epidemics of chronic disease that are overtaking modern society. She explains the key roles mitochondria play in maintaining a healthy brain and body. Americans are eating so poorly, something we all know to be true, that the majority of Americans are missing key building blocks that are needed for brain cells to be healthy. The result is an epidemic of depression, aggression, multiple sclerosis and early dementia. She then teaches you how to eat for healthy mitochondria, a healthy brain and a healthy body in language that is clear and concise, even for those without a science background. [...] Dr. Wahls explains basic brain biology in simple terms. She tells us what vitamin, mineral and essential fat building blocks are needed by the mitochondria and other key structures in the brain [and] explains what foods are good sources for those key nutrients. Over a hundred recipes are provided to help get you started on this new way of eating. [...]

Large Print Edition; Apr 01 2010; ISBN/EAN13: 0982175027 / 9780982175026; 364 pages; US Trade Paper; List Price: $40.50


The vital interplay of D and K in bone and heart health


D and K:  A Vital Interplay in Bone and Heart Health

In all likelihood, your cardiologist is unaware that the mechanisms underlying arterial calcification closely resemble the process of new bone formation, involving many of the same cells (including osteoblasts), proteins, and cytokines (signaling molecules).9

People with osteoporosis are more likely to exhibit atherosclerotic calcification in their blood vessels. And those with atherosclerosis are more likely to possess lower bone mass. What do these groups have in common? Both exhibit insufficient vitamin K levels.5-8

Researchers have since delineated the complex process by which the body manages calcium uptake, distribution, and deposition.5 Many of the same factors that regulate healthy calcium levels in bones are also implicated in the destructive accumulation of calcium in arteries.10 Among those factors are specific proteins called Gla proteins, found in bone tissue and in vascular walls, that require vitamin K for their proper function.5 Other factors crucial to atherosclerosis and osteoporosis prevention are modulated by vitamin D. These include fat-derived inflammatory cytokines.5,11

Osteoporosis and atherosclerosis, in other words, both involve insufficiencies of D and K.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D's role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bone structure and function has been established for decades. It is a vital co-factor in bone mineralization through the absorption of calcium and phosphorus. Severe D deficiency may thus lead to rickets, a childhood disease characterized by impeded growth and deformity of the long bones of the body.

More recently, its definitive importance in optimizing cardiovascular health has emerged. Vitamin D inhibits vascular calcification by blocking the release of inflammatory cytokines and adhesion molecules and preventing abnormal changes in smooth muscle cells in vessel walls.13 Accordingly, low vitamin D levels are associated with increased risk for development of the coronary arterial calcifications seen in atherosclerosis.14

Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease including hypertension, diabetes, increased carotid artery intima-media thickness, as well as heart attack and stroke.15 Vitamin D also reduces gene expression of bone-forming cells abnormally present in the aortas of experimental animals with chronic kidney disease.16

A 2009 national health survey found "a strong and independent relationship of vitamin D deficiency with prevalent cardiovascular disease in a large sample representative of the US adult population."17 Low vitamin D levels have also been implicated in congestive heart failure (CHF).18

Replenishment of low vitamin D levels provides a simple and effective means of reversing many of these risks. To take one example, a 2009 study examined the effect of monthly injections of 300,000 IU of vitamin D3 in a group of deficient subjects with no overt symptoms of cardiovascular disease.11 At the outset of the study, subjects had low flow-mediated dilation of their arteries, a key index of endothelial health. After only 3 months of supplementation, significant improvement in flow-mediated dilation was observed, with diminished post-treatment measures of oxidative stress as well.

These findings have been complemented by recent research into the mechanisms dependent upon vitamin K for optimal heart and bone health mechanisms that operate both parallel to and in tandem with vitamin D.

Vitamin K

Vitamin K is not a single nutrient, but rather denotes several related nutritional compounds. These can be produced within the human body but not by the body.19 Gut flora (beneficial intestinal bacteria) generate about 75% of the vitamin K your body absorbs each day, with the other 25% coming from dietary sources.20 Just as importantly, vitamin K is not stored in the body, underscoring the need for daily intake.21

It occurs in nature in two primary forms: K1 or phylloquinone and K2 or menaquinone. Vitamin K is a cofactor required to convert the amino acid glutamate into gamma-carboxyglutamate, or Gla-proteins.22 Gla-proteins regulate physiological processes controlled by calcium. These include blood coagulation (clotting) and bone mineralization.

Accordingly, Gla-proteins are critical to the formation and replenishment of bone tissue. Unless these proteins are modified by vitamin K, they cannot properly form the matrix in which calcium and phosphorus bind together to make solid, well-mineralized bone. Vitamin K has been shown to stimulate new bone formation and reduce the incidence of vertebral fractures.23,24

A traditional Japanese food made from fermented soybeans, Natt? is a very rich source of K2.
Image Credit: Wikipedia.

The Gla-protein osteocalcin, normally present in bone, has been found in calcified atherosclerotic plaque lesions, and production of this protein is pathologically upregulated in people with atherosclerosis.25-28

At the same time, another vitamin K-dependent Gla-protein known as MGP (for "matrix Gla-protein"), normally found in healthy arterial walls, is a strong inhibitor of vascular calcification.29,30 In other words, by increasing matrix Gla-protein in the arterial walls, vitamin K protects against the calcification-inducing effects of osteocalcin.

This may explain the emergence of compelling evidence for vitamin K as a key factor in overall heart health. To take one example, a large study of more than 4,800 subjects followed for 7-10 years in the Netherlands demonstrated that people in the highest one-third of vitamin K2 intake had a 57% reduction in risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, compared to those with the lowest intake. And their risk of having severe aortic calcification plummeted by 52% a clear demonstration of the vitamin's protective effects.31 Another study by the same group showed that vitamin K2 intake was associated with a 20% decreased risk of coronary artery calcification.32 [...]

Super K with Advanced K2 Complex

Swanson Ultra Natt? K-7 Natural Vitamin K-2


The more people the truth, the more difficult it will be for detractors of natural medicine to claim that it is a danger to the public and in need of further regulation or banning.

[...] A picture tells a thousand words, so they say. Today, ANH-Intl releases hard data in graphical format, from official sources, showing that food supplements are the safest substances to which we are commonly exposed while being the target of increasingly restrictive European legislation aimed at protecting consumers . In contrast, being admitted to a UK hospital or taking prescription drugs exposes a person to one of the greatest preventable risks in society.

In fact, preventable medical injuries in UK hospitals expose you to around the same risk of death as being deployed on military service to Afghanistan both of which are around 300,000 times greater than the risk of death from taking natural health products.

Putting risks in perspective
Risk: it s a tricky issue, and nowhere more so than in the debate around natural versus mainstream healthcare. Today, however, we re not interested in the details and history of the debate instead, we want to push things forward.

We re delighted to be able to share with you graphical comparisons of the risks of death in the UK from many risky and not-so-risky activities, both as an easy-to-understand bubble chart and as a more traditional bar chart. The relative sizes of the bubbles show how likely the individual is to die from each activity: a bigger bubble means a proportionately larger risk of death. In the next few days, we ll have more data for you, this time looking at the situation in the entire European Union (EU).

UK relative risks of death bubble chart
(click to download as a pdf, or save to your computer)

UK relative risks of death bar chart
(click to download as a pdf, or save to your computer)

Our bar charts include the numerical relative risks of death to the individual for those activities, which range from taking herbal medicines and dietary supplements, via gunshot wounds and paracetamol (acetaminophen) poisoning, to preventable medical injuries in hospitals, adverse pharmaceutical drug reactions, smoking and military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Risk of death from food supplements has been assigned a value of 1 to allow calculation of the relative risk from other sources. [...] ? Read More

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has ruled that cocoa powder and dark chocolate can help people improve blood circulation - a claim made by Barry Callebaut, the world's largest maker of chocolate products.

The Swiss group, which supplies food companies such as Nestle and Hershey with cocoa and chocolate products, said on Tuesday it had provided evidence to EFSA that eating 10 grammes of dark chocolate or its equivalent in cocoa that were high in flavanols helped blood flow.

If the European Commission signs off on the EFSA ruling, the company and its customers would have the right to use the health claim on packaging for products such as chocolate drinks, cereal bars and biscuits, the company said. [...]

For the clinical studies it conducted to back up the claim, Barry Callebaut said it used a special process to make cocoa products that maintains the flavanols, which are usually mostly destroyed during conventional chocolate-making.

In an opinion posted on the EFSA website, a scientific panel concluded that a cause and effect relationship had been established between the consumption of cocoa flavanols and the maintenance of normal vasodilation, which aids blood flow.

A string of scientific studies in recent years have shown the potential for health benefits from eating chocolate. Research last year suggested it might be associated with a one-third reduction in the risk of developing heart disease.

The European Union has been clamping down on health claims for food products, approving only some 200 out of over 2,500 applications earlier this year and giving food companies until the end of 2012 to remove any rejected claims. [...] ? Read More

[...] The following wording reflects the scientific evidence: Cocoa flavanols help maintain endothelium-dependent vasodilation, which contributes to normal blood flow . In order to obtain the claimed effect, 200 mg of cocoa flavanols should be consumed daily. This amount could be provided by 2.5 g of high-flavanol cocoa powder or 10 g of high-flavanol dark chocolate, both of which can be consumed in the context of a balanced diet. The target population is the general population.

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Ottawa, ON, March 5, 2012 The Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA) has released a position paper pressing the provincial and federal governments to work together to reduce the rising number of people with mental illness who are being unduly criminalized.

"Over the past decades an increasingly disproportionate number of people with mental illness have become embroiled with the criminal justice system many for relatively minor offences," says Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, author of the new CPA paper published in the February issue of The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry.

"More and better coordinated resources as well as increased monitoring and research are needed to reduce the number of Canadians with mental illness in our jails," says Dr. Chaimowitz, "It is our hope that the Mental Health Commission of Canada s much anticipated mental health strategy will push for action on this front and that governments of all levels will take action."

CPA calls on the federal government to work with the provinces to ensure they remain accountable for providing sufficient and appropriate community and hospital mental health resources, affording people with mental illness adequate diagnosis and treatment before they reach the judicial system. The CPA further advocates that all levels of government review the impact of the new federal crime legislation to ensure people with mental illness are not unfairly affected. The Association also proposes that the Mental Health Commission of Canada and government create a mechanism to monitor the interplay among prisons, hospitals and the community. Research into the factors that predict when people with serious mental illness become involved in the criminal justice system and what mechanisms prevent criminal justice involvement is also recommended.

Lack of access to timely and appropriate mental health services is a fundamental part of the problem. In the last 40 years Canada s psychiatric institutions have been emptied and the number of beds in psychiatric and general hospitals significantly cut. Yet the promised mental health services to support people in their communities are poorly resourced and fragmented.

"In desperation, some family members charge their loved one in the hope that they will be able to access service through the forensic psychiatry system," explains Dr. Chaimowitz. "Unfortunately the price of this uncertain access is the criminalization of the individual."

According to the Correctional Investigator s last annual report, 38 per cent of male federal offenders admitted to penitentiary required further assessment to determine if they have mental health needs. The same is true for over 50 per cent of female offenders. This far exceeds the rate in general society.

"Correctional systems are not benign. The suicide rate for incarcerated people is almost eight times that in the community and the homicide rate 14 times greater," says Dr. Chaimowitz.

Be kind, for everyone
you meet is fighting
a hard battle.
Plato (c.427BC - c.347BC)

The Vienna Declaration

Nature does not hurry,
yet everything
is accomplished.

Hearing Voices...
INTERVOICE: The International Community for Hearing Voices

In 1987, I had no idea the impact that the discovery that accepting and making sense of voices was a helpful alternative was going to have. Yet, after twenty three years of work we have built a unique and formidable movement of voice hearers and allies that has brought about a big change in the way hearing voices are regarded and has found new ways of helping people overwhelmed by their voices.

There are many fears and misunderstandings in society and within psychiatry about hearing voices. They are generally regarded as a symptom of an illness, something that is negative, to be got rid of and consequently the content and meaning of the voice experience is rarely discussed.

The research of Dr. Sandra Escher and myself with over 300 voice hearers has shown that over 70% of people who hear voices can point to a traumatic life event that triggered their voices; that talking about voices and what they mean is a very effective way to reduce anxiety and isolation; and that even when the voices are overwhelming and seemingly destructive they often have an important message for the hearer.

Typically, in Western medical thinking hearing voices has always been associated with mental illness and frequently seen as a symptom of schizophrenia. Yet, we discovered many people who hear voices do not have a mental illness and never seek help. For this reason we are prepared to accept a range of explanations offered by people who hear voices, including spiritual ones, and believe it is essential to the process of recovery from overwhelming voices to understand the meaning of the voices to the voice hearer.

Whilst we are finding more holistic solutions to voices that cause mental distress then those offered by psychiatry. It is very important to stress that in our view voices are an aspect of human differentness, rather than a mental health problem. As with homosexuality, which was also regarded by psychiatry in recent times as an illness, the main issue we have to confront is the denial of the human rights to people who hear voices and our main task is to change the way society perceives the experience. Only if can we do this, do we believe psychiatry will change its mind about voices. That is why this website is so important.

With the support of the worldwide hearing voices network, voice hearers, some of whom have spent long periods of time in psychiatric care, have reclaimed their lives and are now able to say they hear voices and accept them as part of themselves. We believe this is a good time to make our work better known across the world.