Our Unique Gut Microbiome & It's Importance
So we all know what probiotics are, we know that creating a healthy intestinal environment is vitally important for our overall health. But what do we call this large, intricate network of microbial cells that are specific to each and every one of us? We call it the Microbiome, and you may be surprised at just how involved it is in nearly every aspect of our well-being and quality of life!
What is your Microbiome?
The Microbiome is essentially a collection of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live both in and on the human body. Unlike the virtually identical genetic make-up that constitutes us as humans - with tiny variances in our DNA that separate us as individuals, the huge diversity of our gut bacteria allows us to digest compounds that weren’t necessarily made for our genetic metabolism. This increases our ability to extract and utilize as many nutrients as possible from the food and drink we consume on a daily basis. This also means, that no poo is ever the same. Each poo is like a snow flake, no two are ever identical!
Although studied for at least a couple of hundred years, the 10-100 trillion microbial cells found in the gut was first coined as the ‘Microbiome’ by Joshua Lederberg in 2001 – a pretty recent advent considering that Hippocrates often referred to the importance of the gut on overall health and vitality. It’s not a new concept, however it’s an area just beginning to gain ground in the previously impervious medical community.
What does a healthy Microbiome do for us Humans?
The question might be changed to, what does an unhealthy microbiome do to us? Although we know the gut microbiota interacts with us through neuro-immune, neuro-endocrine and neural pathways, it remains difficult to quantify at this point in time what a ‘healthy’ gut eco-system looks like due to its individual nature.
But what we have been able to ascertain relates to particular strains of bacteria that have been found to exert positive effects on the human body, as well as states of dysbiosis where ‘good’ bacteria have been crowded out by ‘bad’ bacteria – ultimately creating an unbalanced eco-system with a potential to perpetuate chronic ill-health.
Signs and Symptoms of an Unbalanced Microbiome
All too common in our day and age of poor dietary choices, what I like to call ‘hyper-hygiene awareness’ and over-use of medications, these signs and symptoms can result from having imbalanced gut bacteria, but are by no means exhaustive:
- Excess gas and bloating
- Poor digestion
- Constipation and/or Diarrhoea
- Chronic low immunity
- Weakened/Cracked Fingernails
- Some vitamin/mineral deficiencies
- Brain Fog
- Food Sensitivities
- Chronic Fatigue/Lethargy
Making sure our Bugs are happy and healthy
Although our gut ecology appears to remain fairly stable from the age of three and through-out adulthood, the incidence of gastrointestinal infections such as food poisoning, certain medication use, diet and stress can cause certain bacteria to fluctuate, the question is whether the microbiome is able to be manipulated in order to produce a therapeutic or normalizing effect.
Studies indeed show the possibility of influencing our microbial environment to positively impact our health through both changes in bacterial metabolism, and the ratio of microbes themselves. We can do this by supplementing with probiotics, or we can even make changes to our diet to manipulate the types of bacteria that feed off certain macronutrients ie. Fats, proteins and carbohydrates. It is a fascinating and potentially life-changing area of biology that we are only scraping the surface of now.