What is a microbiome
What is a microbiome and why you should care?
You are a Universe – the 50% of you, you never met before
There’s a community of 38,000,000,000,000 (that’s 38 trillion) microorganisms, mostly bacteria, living in and on your body. The majority of them reside in your gastrointestinal tract, but many others live in diverse places like your mouth, your skin, and your armpits.
They represent 50% of you by cell count. Collectively, the genes harbored in these trillions of microbial cells constitute your microbiome.
Whether we want or not the bacterias live inside us. We inherit them from our mothers when we are born. But, not all of the bacterias are bad. See, the bacterias are of the oldest species – the living creatures inhabiting the planet Earth. Not all of the bacterias are harmful for us as organisms.
In fact, this is one of the biggest misconceptions. Among trillions of bacterial species, there are some that pose a real danger to a human organism. Most of the bacterias are looking for symbiotic living with their host.
Just, think about that. Why would a guest – bacterias – want to kill their host, if he or she’s providing anything they need in order to live and reproduce themselves?
Well, yes, some bacterias want to kill you. Because, life is not perfect. Perfection does not exist.
Those that are harmful are called pathogens.We have them in our bodies anyway, but they are usually not causing any trouble, because we tend to have a strong immune system that regulates their occurrence in our bodies.
The problem only comes when our immune system is weakened by different factors – where one of the most acute is the so-called civilization factor – where immunodeficiencies are created by stress.
There is evidence that there are good and bad guys
From the moment we are born we are colonized by bacterias. First from our moms, then the environment, dad, brother, sister and of course our pet.
The First microbes colonize your gastrointestinal system and form the foundation of your immune system, serving as the instructors of what’s dangerous and what’s not.
By the first few years of life, they stabilize into what is called the steady-state microbiome, resembling more or less what you have today.
You don’t want a leaky gut
We don’t have our guts just to digest food. it’s an indispensable part of our immune system.
Everything that we eat goes from our digestive system through the blood and back to our guts. Our guts have regulatory and filtration functions. One of the main functions of our guts is to detoxify remaining compounds, such as toxic leftovers from bacteria destroyed by our immune system – our immune system destroys the bacteria, but some toxic compounds remain.
That’s the goal of the gut is to filtrate and detoxify these chemicals that would pollute the body. There are other functions of the gut including the production of gall, triglycerides, etc.
Think of your guts as your skin! Skin is covering our bodies from the world with billions and billions of pathogens that would love to attack the living code we’re made of. Skin is like the first layer of protection. But, no matter what we do, pathogens will get inside. It’s our guts that are responsible for 80% of our immunity! Imagine your guts being a huge ground (like the size of a tennis court) covered with immune cells that fight pathogens.
Until the food is inside the small intestine, it is technically still out of the body. Indeed, if it’s not passing the intestinal lining to the blood, it’s not in the system.
The core of the digestion is taking place in the long tube that is connecting both ends of the digestive tract.
Here, the food we intake must be digested properly until it’s ready to move to the bloodstream.
If it’s not, and undigested food is passing through, then Houston, we got a problem!
You don’t want a leaky gut. Just like you don’t want your skin to have wounds that can get infected and say to nasty invaders: Welcome!
You don’t want a leaky gut that is letting toxins into the blood. Now, that you understand this principle, let’s do some plumbing.
It’s one of the most fascinating things of evolution that our bodies have made allies. These allies are the bacteria that are not doing us any harm, rather they help us against the bad guys.
It’s a win-win situation. The good bacteria are getting the environment for their life, but they guarantee us they won’t behave like they own the space and decide to destroy it. Our bodies get agents that won’t pass the seats for the bad guys – they say, no you can’t sit here!
You can read more in our book.
It’s a myth to believe that probiotics help only in your gut
The debate whether probiotics help your gut is tricky though. Do we know for certain that ingested probiotics do colonize tissues of our bodies?
There is a common misconception that probiotics must ‘colonize’ or alter the composition of your microbiome to “work”. It’s not true.
In fact, outside of specific cases like fecal transplants, there is little evidence that probiotics ‘colonize’, or that they need to. Compared to the tens of trillions of microbes already rooted in your gastrointestinal tract, most probiotics don’t contain enough new bacteria to make a significant difference in the composition of your microbiota.
But, they do not need to.
We have enough evidence that probiotics travel through your GI tract, interacting with your immune cells, dendritic cells, gut cells, dietary nutrients, and existing bacteria to, directly and indirectly, deliver benefits.
What is a microbiome – How exactly do probiotics benefit us?
We already talked about how good bacterias help “from a leaky gut”.
Yes, they support the secretion of intestinal mucus and collaborate closely with your gut’s ‘gatekeepers’ (tight junctions) to modulate what should (ie. nutrients) or shouldn’t (ie. undigested food particles or pathogenic bacteria) pass through to the body.
But, this is not the only thing. What is a microbiome helps us to understand certain functions in our bodies.
Certain bacteria even produce neurotransmitters that stimulate muscle contractions—yes, we’re talking about easier poops.
When we eat, certain microbial genes code for enzymes that break down food we otherwise couldn’t—think complex carbohydrates, like fiber.
Bacteria also produce byproduct short-chain fatty acids, like butyrate.
Butyrate is a powerful agent in reducing inflammation. It has a strong anti – inflammatory properties that means it reduces oxidative stress caused by environmental & nutrition factors.
It also manages the production of regulatory T-cells (the ones that help your body distinguish between self and intruder).
Beyond this, bacteria also synthesize essential vitamins B and K, defend against E. coli and other intruders in the urogenital tract, and for women, balance pH and protect from unwanted yeast in the vaginal biome.
Their health is critical to the health of our entire body—from heart to skin to metabolism to gut immune function.
All this to say that our bacteria play an incredibly complex and critical role in helping us thrive.
Scientists are constantly discovering new associations between our microbiome and our health. New findings around the gut-brain axis are emerging which indicate that our gut flora may even impact our mood, appetite, behavior, and circadian rhythm—functions we thought were relegated just to the brain.
How to pick up your probiotics?
Let’s start rather scholarly – what are probiotics anyway?
Because, there’s a lot of echo and misinterpretations.
The official definition of ‘probiotics’ came in 2001 by UN/WHO channel expert panel, which defined probiotics as:
Live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer health benefits on a host.
So, let’s use an analytical mind.
Live – in order to get any benefits from the administered nutrient, the substance has to be living.
Something’s living is being administered and it’s going into your body.
Probiotics have to survive many stages of digestion. And trust us, that’s not easy.
Just think how deadly and acidic stomach acid can be.
Most of all they have to get into colon where they are most active.
Adequate amounts and can’t I just eat Kombucha
This is the label we see also on many especially dairy products that want to target the benefits of living microorganisms – the amount of billions or trillions of CFU.
This is not an easy standard. The proper administration is science. Most of the time this dosage has to be evaluated through clinical study.
If you want to seclude chaff from grain in the world of probiotics you have to watch out for studies that prove the health benefits.
Maybe, you tell yourself that it’s enough to eat foods that contain microorganisms. And, by the way it’s good, because they are usually so yummy.
But, the proof of their health benefits is yet limited. Yes, we’re talking about Kefir, Kombucha, probiotics armored yoghurts.
With foods containing bacteria you might have ingested some bacteria, but do you know which strains? In what quantities?
Have they survived the acidic journey through your digestive system and landed in your colon? Were these strains properly studied in those quantities, to actually do something in your body?
These are the questions to ask. And you do not have that certainty with “probiotics” that you get in the supermarket.
This is, of course, not to say that you shouldn’t eat or drink fermented things. Many fermented foods and beverages are extremely nutritious, not to mention very tasty, additions to your daily diet.
That’s just to say that your “probiotics” business may not do the job when you eat some yogurt with CFU and you falsely think you did that trick.
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