Humans are superorganisms, full of trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Collectively, they are known as the microbiome. While this might sound off-putting as some bacteria are associated with disease, the microbiome is extremely important for your immune system and many other aspects of your help. The microbiome is one of our often discussed topics here at Functional Medicine, but you might be wondering what it is and where it is found. In this post, we are going to dive deeper into what the microbiome is, where it is found, and other ways it affects your body.
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms, also called microbiota or microbes, usually in the form of bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. The microbiome is essential for human development, immunity, and nutrition and is even labeled a supporting organ due it playing many key roles in promoting the day-to-day operations of the human body. Microbiota exists throughout your body, but there is a significant amount in your intense. A majority of microbes in your intestines are found in a “pocket” of your large intestine called the cecum and are referred to as the gut microbiome.
Most of the microbiome in your body is symbiotic (meaning both the human body and microbiota benefit) and some, in smaller numbers are pathogenic (promoting disease). In a healthy body, pathogenic and symbiotic microbiota coexist without problems. If there is a disturbance in that balance — brought on by infectious diseases, specific diets, or prolonged use of antibiotics or other bacteria-destroying medication — dysbiosis occurs, stopping these normal interactions. As a result, the body may become more susceptible to disease.
How does it develop?
Every person has a unique network of microbiota that is determined by one’s DNA. The first exposure to these microbes is as an infant, during delivery in the birth canal and through breast milk. As you grow, the microbiome begins to diversify with environmental exposures and diet changes that can be beneficial to your health or place you at greater risk for disease.
How does the microbiome affect our bodies?
- Gut health: The microbiome plays a roll in those experiencing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Digesting fiber: Certain bacteria help digest fiber that is imperative to the gut to help prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, and lower cancer risk.
- Heart health: The microbiome produces chemicals that may block arteries and lead to heart disease.
- Blood sugar: The gut microbiome plays a role in controlling blood sugar and may also affect the onset of type 1 diabetes in children.
- Immune system: The microbiome communicates with immune cells and can control how your body responds to infection.
- Brain health: The microbiome affects brain health by producing brain chemicals such as serotonin and communicating with nerves connecting to the brain.
- Weight: Gut dysbiosis may lead to weight gain, but consuming probiotics can help restore gut health and reduce weight.
How to improve your microbiome health:
The health of your body and microbiome is ever-changing, meaning you always have the opportunity to improve.
Here are a few ways to improve your microbiome health:
- Eat the rainbow: Consuming a diverse range of foods that contain fiber to help promote the growth of healthy Bifidobacteria.
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods contain healthy bacteria, mainly Lactobacilli, that can reduce the potential risk of disease.
- Prebiotics: Prebiotics are a type of fiber that stimulates the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
- Whole grains: Consuming beneficial fibers and carbohydrates such asbeta-glucan which is digested by gut bacteria can benefit weight, cancer risk, diabetes, and other disorders.
- Plant-based diet: Vegetarianism can reduce levels of disease-causing bacteria such as E. coli, as well as inflammation and cholesterol.
- Probiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria that can help restore the gut to a healthy state after dysbiosis.
- Positive psychology: Psychology is a powerful tool in the wellbeing of your body. The Functional Medicine Coaching Academy was founded on positive thinking to help implement healthy habits and make lifestyle changes. Recently, our founder and CEO, Dr. Sandra Scheinbaum sat down with Andrea Wein, host of The Microbiome Report podcast, powered by BIOHM Health talking about the powerful relationship of the microbiome and positive psychology. Dr. Sandra goes into detail about how our thoughts, mental images, and emotions can impact the gut. They also dive into our subconscious beliefs, how they drive our disease states, and how changing our mind can also change our health. You can listen to the “The Microbiome Report – Can You Think Yourself Well?” podcast here!
In conclusion, the microbiome is imperative to our health by helping control digestion, benefiting your immune system, and many other aspects of health. Now you know the importance of the microbiome to your body and the many ways you can improve your microbiome to be your healthiest, happiest self.
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Hair, Marilyn, and Jon Sharpe. “Fast Facts About The Human Microbiome.” University of Washington Center for Ecogenetics and Environmental Health, depts.washington.edu/ceeh/downloads/FF_Microbiome.pdf.
“The Microbiome.” The Nutrition Source, 4 Sept. 2019, www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/.
Proal, Amy D, et al. “The Human Microbiome and Autoimmunity.” Current Opinion in Rheumatology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Mar. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23370376.
Ursell, Luke K, et al. “Defining the Human Microbiome.” Nutrition Reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Aug. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426293/.