What does the word microbiome mean?
Microbes are the smallest living organisms known, 1,000 times smaller than a pencil tip. They are everywhere: in soil, rivers, plants, animals, tap water, on your keyboard, on your pillow and in your body.
About 20 years ago the term human microbiome was coined, defining the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live on and inside a human body.
Why should we care?
Autoimmune diseases appear to be passed in families not only by DNA inheritance but also by inheriting the family’s microbiome. Autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and fibromyalgia are associated with dysfunction in the microbiome.
For ease of understanding, we can group microbes into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ groups. An example of the ‘good’ bacteria at work is in the intestinal microbiota that manufacture vitamins which are not produced by human cells, namely vitamins B12 and K.
When ‘bad’ bacteria are allowed to thrive and overtake the colony, we become ill. Obesity, asthma and diabetes may be due to abnormal diversity of intestinal microbiota. For example, a healthy gut microbiota includes two main groups of bacteria called Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, but it has been shown that, in the gut of obese people, Bacteroidetes are almost absent.
In general, healthy humans have a balanced microbiota, with a high diversity, a mix of more than 1,000 different types of bacteria in their gut, both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’.
Where do they come from?
We begin to be colonized by bacteria during birth. Babies get microorganisms from their moms during delivery, when they pass through the vagina, or from contact with the mom’s skin, if the delivery is by cesarean section. An example of how different the colony of a natural birth baby is to a baby born via C-section is Lactobacilli, a type of bacteria that lives in the mother’s vagina. They colonize the baby’s intestines to help in the digestion of milk. If the baby is delivered by cesarean section, Lactobacilli will not immediately become part of the baby’s microbiota, which will be made up mostly by bacteria from the mom’s skin and the environment during birth.
The next source of microbes for the baby is from their diet. The best diet for a baby is human breast milk which provides the optimal balance of all nutrients necessary for growth. Breast milk also contains nutrients that are indigestible to the baby but are a source of nourishment to baby’s gut microbiota.
As babies grow, they get microorganisms from the solid food they eat, from crawling on the floor, from putting their hands in their mouths, from licking toys, and from many other sources.
The microbes that live in the human body change during our growth, until we are around 3 years old. At that point, the microbiota becomes more or less stable until adult life.
Each individual has his or her own unique microbiota, which depends in part, on our environment, our long-term diet, stress and the drugs we take, such as antibiotics. These all continue to play a role as we age, meaning our microbiome can evolve throughout our life.
Is there anything we can do to maintain a healthy microbiome?
Our microbiome is a very delicate, living system which is susceptible to changes. Some we have very little control over, but there are other very deliberate choices we make. These choices either lead to an imbalance in our microbiome or encourage a healthy balance, which provides us with the optimal environment to thrive.
We are very excited to have you join us on this journey as we unpack the various ways in which we can take control of our health by keeping our microbes in mind.
In our next blog, we will offer you various options to assist your gut microbiome to maintain a healthy balance…… Chat soon!