The human microbiome is the personalized collection of microorganisms and molecules found in our bodies. The microbiome is becoming recognized for its influences on everything that has to do with our health, from allergies to obesity.
The human microbiome is considered to be the counterpart to the human genome, which is all of our genes. However, the genes in our microbiome outnumber the genes in our genome by as much as 100 to 1.
Microbiome: The Unexplored Organ
According to a paper published by Environmental Health Perspectives, scientists say they now view our resident microbes as a largely unexplored organ; an organ that contributes many functions that are essential for life. Their studies suggest that the body’s microbiome determine how the body functions.
Fifteen years ago, the Human Genome Project (or HGP) discovered that our genetics are only responsible for about 10 percent of human disease. The project found that the remaining 90 percent of diseases are actually induced by environmental factors, be they nutrients, toxins, or thoughts and emotions. More recently, scientists realized one of these environmental factors was your microbiome. It can turn genes off or on depending upon the microbes present in the body.
The microbiome is made up of colonies of various microbes; these microbes reside in your gut and elsewhere in and on your body. Each individual’s microbiome is unique to them, as unique as a fingerprint, and it can be altered quickly by a change in diet, a change in lifestyle, and even a change in your environment.
Bacteria in the Body
Our bodies house about 1,000 different species of bacteria; bacteria outnumber the cells in the body by 10 to 1. The body also harbors viruses, and those viruses outnumber the bacteria 10 to 1. What does this mean? It means that your body has to function properly, and be balanced, in order to keep you at optimal health.
Your Microbiome and Disease Prevention
According to a study published in The Guardian, microbes can actually help prevent specific disease states. For example, researchers got rid of four different strains of bacteria in lab rats and were able to trigger changes in the animals’ metabolism that led to obesity.
Another study, this one published in PLOS (a scientific journal), shows that autistic children have different microbiomes than children who are not autistic. Autistic children have less beneficial bacteria in their gut, the ones that influence our immune responses. These responses start in the gut and travel to the brain, sending signals to the rest of the body.
The research suggests that your microbiome can actually be a preeminent factor in determining your overall longevity. The findings also suggest that if we reevaluate what our idea of a healthy diet is, it could have far-reaching effects on our health. Improving our gut health could have a major impact on our longevity, our body makeup, and our brain function.
A healthy diet, then, is not just one that gives us the right nutrients. The food you eat should also help support a healthy microbiome.
Foods That Support a Healthy Microbiome
Foods that will support your gut health, and in turn help your microbiome function properly include fermented foods, such as miso (fermented soybeans), fermented dairy like yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut, fermented pickles, tempeh and Kombucha (which is actually a fermented drink).
Raw foods are another great choice, especially those that are also high in fiber. Many of the microbes in our gut are designed to ferment soluble fiber. Choose legumes, fruits and vegetables, which all provide soluble fiber that will help nourish the lining of your colon.
One food to avoid is sugar; sugar actually makes fungi grow in the gut, which will produce yeast infections and sinusitis.
Diseases Linked to the Microbiome
There have been a number of health conditions and chronic diseases linked to the makeup of your microbiome. Diseases such as Crohn’s disease, Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, Autism and a number of brain diseases have been shown to be linked to the microbiome.
Patients with Crohn’s disease have been found to have lower than normal levels of a certain bacteria in their guts.
A study in Scientific American revealed that infants exposed to antibiotics within the first three years of their lives may be predisposed to obesity. Lab mice that were given antibiotics during infancy turned out to be 25 percent heavier with 60 percent more body fat than the control mice.
That same study found that Autism may be worsened, or perhaps even caused by certain bacteria in our bodies. Autistic children in the study had a very different microbiome than children who did not have Autism. The Autistic children had fewer healthy bacteria and higher levels of toxic organic compounds in their bodies.
According to a study by the EASD (European Association for the Study of Diabetes), both Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes are linked to higher inflammatory responses in the body which cause metabolic dysfunction. This suggests that your gut flora plays a significant role in whether or not you develop diabetes.
And those who suffer from food allergies will be happy to know that studies show these types of allergies can actually be reversed when gut bacteria is improved. The gut bacteria Clostridia specifically prevent sensitization to food allergens, recent research shows. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that adding probiotics which contain this specific bacteria called (Clostridia) can help you reverse your food allergies.
Scientists used genetic analysis to determine that Clostridia works to reduces the permeability of the intestinal lining. This prevents leaky gut syndrome which is the condition that allows allergens to enter your bloodstream. Getting rid of leaky gut syndrome will help rid you of your food allergies.
In his book Brain Maker: The Power of Gut Microbes to Heal and Protect Your Brain for Life, Dr. David Perlmutter looks at the connection between the microbiome and brain health. He connected the microbiome to a number of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Optimizing Your Microbiome
While optimizing gut health is the best way to improve your microbiome, there are other things you can do. Make sure to avoid antibiotics, which kill the ‘good’ bacteria in the gut; don’t use antibacterial soaps or hand sanitizers as these kill off both good and bad bacteria on the skin; open the windows in your home and let in fresh air, and letting out some of the harmful, stale bacteria that gets ‘stuck’ inside; avoid processed foods and even wash your dishes by hand, rather than using a dishwasher (research shows that while washing by hand leaves more bacteria on the dishes, this is actually a good thing as it stimulates the immune system).
Eat right and follow these tips for a healthy microbiome!