What is the microbiome?
The gut microbiome is a collection of genomes of specific microbes (composed of bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa, and viruses) that live inside your large intestine, and to a lesser extent, your small intestine. The human body has approximately 100-trillion of these micro-organisms existing in our gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). We have about 10 times as many microbial cells as human cells, most of which carry no risk of disease. In fact, deficiencies in microbiome cell diversity are thought to increase the likelihood for disease. The microbes in our guts do everything we can’t do, so the more diversity in digestive tract, the less chance of contracting disease. (5,6)
What does the microbiome (microbiota) do?
Microbes digest food to produce nutrients. They do that for host cells, to create vitamins, metabolize drugs, detoxify carcinogens, stimulate the renewal of cells in the gut lining. They also activate and support the immune system. In other words: they provide nourishment for the body, regulate epithelial development, and instruct natural immunity. Each human microbiome does the same thing, generally, but each human microbiome is unique. (1,3)
To put it into perspective:
The human genome consists of about 23 000 genes, whereas the microbiome encodes over three million genes. (5) Genetic ancestry has a minor role in determining microbiome composition, according to study. (4) The study also found that there are similarities in the structure of the microbiome in unrelated people who share a household. It also demonstrates that the diversity of the microbiome is a predictor of many human traits, such as those in glucose and obesity measures. (4)
Low microbial diversity or imbalance:
Can cause gut dysbiosis, an imbalance in microbial communities which is linked with disease when the imbalance disturbs the functions of the microbiota. It leads to processes that promote disease. Dysbiosis varies across different conditions. An increase in anaerobes, in low microbial diversity, will replace anaerobes in a healthy gut. A low microbial diversity has been linked to liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease and obesity, to name a few. (2,3)
Some things to know about antibiotics and the microbiota: (10,11)
-decreases our ability to fight infection
-diminish our ability to process food
-decreases the diversity of the microbiome
-excessive antibiotic use raises resistant bacteria
-can result in gut microbiota dysbiosis
High microbial diversity:
>Helps digestion and
>Improves the immune system, 80% of your immune system is in your gut.
Ways to help gut microbiome diversity: (12)
-Eat fermented foods
-Eat prebiotic fiber-rich foods
-Eat whole foods
-Probiotic/ prebiotic supplements
-Don’t overeat of any artificial sweeteners
The Microbiome Project
In 2007 the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) as an extension of the Human Genome Project. It reported on research over the previous five years. (1,8)
The goals of the HMP:
>to take advantage of technology to characterize the human microbiome, in a more detailed way, by studying samples from multiple sites in the body of at least 250 “normal” volunteers >to see if there are any associations between changes in the microbiome during several medical conditions to provide a standardized data resource + new technological approaches to assist in more future studies of the microbiome (8)
*The HMP predicts that there may be more than 8 million unique microbial genes associated with the microbiomes across the human body of the healthy adults that were reported on. The project suggested that the genetic influence in the microbiome may be many hundreds of times higher than the genetic
involvement from the human genome.
This is only the beginning. We have learned that the bacteria living in and on us are not invaders but are beneficial colonizers. The hope is that, as research progresses, we will learn how to care for our microscopic colonizers so that they, in turn, can care for our health.
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