Words you Don't Hear at your Doctor's Office: Microbiome
Microbiome (micro for "small/ microscopic", and biome referring to a naturally occurring community of bacteria occupying a large habitat ie. the human body).
The mitochondria, the power house of every cell in our body, was once a free-living bacteria that became incorporated into our physiology through evolution to power life. We are starting to appreciate the significance of bacteria in its role on our health, and may even owe more to them than our very own DNA.
The bacteria that inhabit us way outnumber our own cells by a factor of 10 and include more than 8 million genes, which is 300 times more than the number of genes in our DNA!
While the human genome is almost identical in every human the microbiome in identical twins can be vastly different.
These organisms predominantly reside in our digestive tract and include fungi, viruses, but it's the bacterial species which are the big players in supporting our health.
The state of our bacterial communities is turning out to be so key in our health, that it is starting to become recognized as an organ in and of itself. How we feel emotionally and physically may very well hinge on our unique microbiome!
The NIH Human Microbiome Project started in 2008 as an extension of the Human Genome Project to catalog the microorgnisms living in our body and appreciate the influence of these organisms .
Scientists have studied the effects of missing microbes or dysbiosis (a shift from healthy strains of bacteria to more harmful), in "germ-free" mice to better understand the outcomes. They found for instance, germ-free mice exhibit severe anxiety, chronic gut and general inflammation, the latter of which is a major risk factor for practically every disease.
Dysbiosis occurs from a diet high in processed foods (new research is showing than emulsifiers in foods can also be harmful to our little helpers), pesticides, and in our environment, and an array of other factors.
Pro Tips for Probiotics:
Probiotics can seem like a confusing realm when you are looking to purchase them in food or supplement form when looking to replenish your healthy gut bacteria. Probiotic means "for life".
Food sources of probiotics include any fermented foods.
CFU = colony forming units. This means that in a 25 billion CFU probiotic, you have 25 billion bacterias that are able to multiply and form its own colony!
Take with food. Ideally you should take your probiotics with a meal. This is because when you eat, you 1. reduce the intensity of your stomach acid so it doesn't damage the bacteria, and 2. when you eat, your gastric motility slows as your intestines take time to absorb all the nutrients giving the probiotics more time to adhere to the right places.
Human strains are ideal, as they are recognized and assimilated more easily.
Refrigerated or shelf stable. Both are effective forms, but ensure you are getting a quality product fit for you consult with your naturopath.
Prebiotics are foods that we humans don't absorb, but are what beneficial bacterias feed on to grow.
Once you get in some healthy colonies, it can will be sustainable to feed good bacteria you have with good food. This is done most effectively through meals rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Check out this article and beautiful image of what it takes to have a healthy gut.
Let's take care of our little friends too!
The Lucky Years: How to Thrive in a Brave New World of Health. Agus, D. B. (2016).
Chassaing, B., et al. (2017). Dietary emulsifiers directly alter human microbiota composition and gene expression ex vivo potentiating intestinal inflammation. Gut, 66(8). Retrieved from https://gut.bmj.com/content/66/8/1414