There’s a flaming hot topic floating around the world of health these days….The MICROBIOME.
Chances are you’ve heard of it in passing – maybe at your naturopathic clinic or while scrolling through your twitter feed. Perhaps, you’ve never heard the word before and if that’s the case, don’t worry you’re not alone. The truth is, scientists themselves are only beginning to understand what a Microbiome really is and how it works in our bodies.
In order to explain this to you, let’s start at the very beginning.
What is a Microbiome?
If you think back to Biology 101, you probably learned that the human body is made up of many different kinds of cells – skin cells, muscle cells, nerve cells and blood cells. All of these are human cells – your cells – functioning according to the set of specific instructions encoded in your genes. However, your body also contains trillions of cells that are not human, but microbial. Microbes include things like bacteria, fungi, protists and viruses. These microbes have their own unique set of genes. Together, these microbes constitute the human microbiome. Basically, it’s the ecosystem of microbes that live on you and within you.
This microbiome plays a major role in your health from helping your immune system to aiding in digestion. The collection of microbes that constitute the microbiome is not random. The human microbiome is made up of a particular set of microbes that complement each other and the human host – that’s you! Each microbiome is unique and they play a huge part in the dynamic balance between health and disease.
How big is the Microbiome?
Your microbiome is massive and its everywhere – it’s not only on you but it comprises you. It includes approximately 100 trillion bacterial cells. Here’s the number: 100, 000, 000, 000, 000! (jeez, that’s a lot of 0’s)
The human body is made up of about 37 trillion human cells. That means at any given time, you are carrying around 3 times more bacterial cells than human ones. But the microbiome includes more than just bacteria. It also comprises plenty of viruses, fungi, archea, and single celled eukaryotes.
The microbiome is also big in terms of space and weight. The weight of the human microbiome is about 2.5 pounds. In volume, it would occupy about 3 pints!
Where did I get my microbiome from?
Simply put, we get most of our microbiome from other humans. Newborn babies encounter microbes for the first time during birth. Babies inherit the first bits of their microbiomes from their mothers as they pass through the vaginal canal during childbirth, which is one of the reasons vaginal birth is so important when it comes to building our natural immunities. As the baby is being born, it is coated with microbes from the mother’s birth canal. Babies that are born by caesarean section first encounter microbes from the mother’s skin and from other individuals who touch the baby (reason why skin-to-skin is important!).
The next source of microbes for baby is breast milk. In addition to providing nutrients, vitamins and antibodies needed for baby’s growth and nutrition, breast milk also supplies many different kinds of bacteria to populate baby’s gut.
Why does my microbiome matter anyway?
The balance of your microbiome promotes your overall health. Think of a seesaw – when completely balanced the body functions optimally and symbiotically. When out of balance, there is chaos and disease processes take over.
Researchers reveal that a healthy gut can promote a well-functioning immune system, digestive wellness, a good mood, healthy glucose levels, balanced yeast growth, and positive sleep patterns.
Your microbiome also helps you combat aggressions from other microorganisms. Think of it as your own little army!
How do I take good care of my microbiome?
Now that you know about the trillions of little microbial friends you are carrying around and the important role they play in your health, you probably want to keep them happy!
Although there is still more research being done on what characterizes a healthy microbiome and how our behaviour affects it, we do know that diet can affect your microbiome. First, the foods you consume are also feeding your microbes. Prebiotic foods, such as those high in fiber, fruits and vegetables will help to feed the good bacteria in your gut and help them thrive.
Secondly, actually consuming microbes can change your GI microbiota. Fermented foods like yogurt, miso, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut contain microbes that are similar to those found in your GI tract.
There are also supplements that are made up of microbes, called Probiotics, designed to supplement good bacteria. Consult with a naturopathic doctor to really understand which exact microbes you need and which type of probiotic is right for you.
Broad-spectrum antibiotics can also have a profound and often long-lasting negative effect on the microbiome, especially a developing one. For more information, make sure you consult with a health care practitioner.
Your microbiome is unique, dynamic and imperative to a healthy life. Remember, you can play a hands-on role in shaping your microbiome in so many ways from dietary changes to simple lifestyle modifications. Take care of your microbiome and it will most definitely take care of you!