The human microbiome is a hot topic
Microbiome. Gut bacteria. Probiotics. These are hot topics in science, medicine and nutrition. Why? Because we are all FULL of microbes, most of which do essential things for us. Others are merely helpful, some don’t do much but coexist, and others are actually harmful. Exploring the intricate relationships between “them and us” is THE rage right now.
Back up, what microbes we are “full of?”
We mean the microscopic organisms that live in and on your body. They are so tiny that millions can fit into the eye of a needle, yet they are invisible to us. They are everywhere! Literally, everywhere. They include bacteria, archaea, fungi, amoebas, algae, protozoa, and arguably viruses.
There are more microbes on one of your hands than there are people in the world!
That shows how ridiculously vast their numbers are. You have seven pounds of microbes in your intestinal tract (gut flora). Microbes exist in your nose, sinus cavities, mouth, urinary tract, vagina, and all over your skin. Each of these areas have different species. Microbes are very smart in terms of survival – they quickly adapt to changing environments.
What does microBIOME mean?
Each colony of microbes carries its own DNA, it’s own genome. Your microbiome is the collective DNA of all your microbes. Every person has a unique microbiome, like a thumbprint. Your microbiome communicates with your own DNA (genome). So….
We call your microbiome your second genome.
We humans evolved with microbes, in symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationships, since the beginning of our existence. These microbes do many jobs for you that you can’t do yourself. They are your little invisible worker minions.
For example, most of your bacteria reside in your digestive tract. Here they ferment fiber and make byproducts that are essential. These include vitamins, anti-inflammatory molecules, and chemicals that regulate your metabolism and immune system.
In turn, you feed them and give them a good home. You want these beneficial relationships; you could not exist without them. Your beneficial bacteria are your microscopic superheroes – you never see them but they are constantly doing great things for you!
Your microbiome is related to most disease
For almost every disease or condition, scientific research shows a correlation to our human microbiome. This research exploded in 2012 and comes out weekly, if not daily. Examples include:
- Arthritis and Joint Pain * *
- Autoimmunity * * * *
- Brain *
- Gluten Intolerance *
- Hormones *
- Inflammation * * * *
- Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. * *
- Thyroid *
What exactly is your GUT microbiome?
This refers to you gut flora, which line your whole digestive tract, mouth to anus. Think of this tract as a tube that is open to your outside environment. When anything enters this tube, it encounters, and interacts with, your microbial colonies throughout.
There is only so much space for microbes to colonize. The ones that do colonize establish themselves by building sticky complexes of sugars and protein called biofilms. They fight to defend their space against new microbes coming in. Through your gut, the species and numbers change:
- About 200 species of microbes exist in your mouth.
- Your stomach is mostly sterile because it is so acidic.
- The microbes in your small intestine start low in number and increase in number and species further down the tract.
- Ninety percent of your microbes flourish in your large intestine, or colon. Here there are over 30 different genera (genus) and over 500 different species. This is where most of the action takes place.
What do your gut microbes do for you?
- Synthesize vitamins, especially K2 and the B vitamins folate, biotin and B12.
- Ferment indigestible fiber to make short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs provide energy for your large intestine. One of these SCFAs is called butyrate, which has potent anti-inflammatory actions.
- Provide 50% of your stool bulk.
- Break down toxic chemicals for excretion.
- Help convert thyroid hormone T4 into its active form T3.
- Provide a protective barrier between your gut contents and its inner mucosal layer.
- Prevent pathogenic microbes from multiplying.
Your gut microbiome is crucial to your immune system
Microbes and their biofilms line your entire GI tract. Beneath is a mucous layer secreted by your digestive lining. As it turns out, this inner mucus layer contains 70% of your entire body’s immune cells. It’s known as your “gut immune system.”
Your microbes and gut immune cells deal with a steady stream of guests that pass through. Some are welcome, such as additional beneficial microbes, food particles, medicine, and nutrients. But, there are also unwanted guests, such as environmental toxins, viruses, endotoxins (byproducts of metabolism from the liver), and pathogenic microbes.
Your microbes help your immune cells identify and tag “good” from “bad.” Hence, they regulates your entire immune system:
- The good guys (commensals with a purpose) help your immune system.
- The bad ones (pathogens, some trigger autoimmunity) can create inflammation, allergies, and immune dysregulation.
- Other microbes simply pass through your GI tract, without much benefit, harm, or input.
For your immune system to function well, you need the right microbes in the right places. You also need the right quantity and diversity.
How to get more diversity? Please read the next post, Your Microbiome: Diversity, Diversity, Diversity! to learn more.
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