Microbiome 101: What Is The Microbiome, And Why is it So Important?
This is a sponsored article on behalf of Seed. All opinions are my own.
Your body is home to a community of microorganisms that live in the gut. These diverse bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa play many key roles in the overall healthy functioning of the body. When this system of microbes is out of balance, however, you can be affected physically, mentally, and even emotionally. By understanding this ecosystem within your own body, you can better support it and take advantage of the health benefits it brings.
The Microbiome: A World Within You
The network of these microbes in your body is called the microbiome. Comprising trillions of microorganisms made up of over a thousand different species, this community mostly lives in the intestine. Because the microbiome is an essential part of many functions throughout the body, a disruption in balance can have a cascading effect on overall health.
The microorganisms of the microbiome coexist in much the same way that individuals in a large city do. While each of the microbe residents of the gut has its own identity and agenda, all contribute to the overall functioning of the community. Additionally, like different cities around the world, each person’s microbiome is distinct and unique to them, with a variety of factors influencing their microbe population. (1)
What Are Microbes?
The residents of the microbiome community are made up of microbes. Microbes include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses. Though some of these microbes are helpful and others potentially harmful, a healthy microbiome allows all of these microorganisms to coexist and work symbiotically. The tasks performed by these microbes include creating essential vitamins, helping to stimulate the immune system, fighting some diseases, breaking down food, and playing a role in regulating mood.
The diversity of microbes within this microbiome depends on many factors, including the microorganisms passed from mother to baby in the birth canal, breast milk, diet, and environmental exposures. When the microbe species within the gut are diversified, numerous, and outnumber harmful bacteria, the microbiome flourishes. Others may struggle with food sensitivities or gut problems due to an unbalancing of these bacteria. The good news is that the microbiome you are born with or acquire in early life can be impacted and diversified to increase your health. (1, 2)
How The Microbiome Affects The Body
The microbiome performs many vital functions that have a direct bearing on overall health. From functioning in the gut and digestive tract to influencing the brain, these powerful microorganisms have far-reaching effects on many systems in your body. Here, we’ll discuss a few main areas of the body that are most impacted by the microbiome.
- The Digestive Tract And Metabolism: As the microbiome resides mostly in the gut, many of its functions are related to breaking down food and nutrients. Bacteria help to break down food and produce many different vitamins and essential amino acids. The food is then better able to be absorbed and used by the body for energy and to support microbes.
- The Immune System: The goal is to have the good bacteria outnumber the bad, such as harmful pathogens. By signaling the immune system using specific receptors, these good bacteria contribute to the releasing of white blood cells, cytokines, and protective peptides that protect the body from invaders.
- The Gut-Brain Axis: The microbiome communicates with the brain through neural, hormonal, and immunological signals stretching between the two. This communication can flow both ways, allowing the brain to send messages to the gut as well. While research continues to explore this connection, a correlation between stress and brain function with the microbiome has been shown. This means that mental and emotional health can be affected by the state of the microbiome. (3)
What Can Damage The Microbiome?
Maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria is essential for the body to function correctly. When good and bad bacteria are out of balance, the microbiome can become damaged. This affects many other areas of the body and can lead to a variety of problems.
- Diet: From the time a person is born, their diet influences the microbiome. Whether they were breastfed or formula-fed, different bacterial species in the gut can be dominant. Research shows that an infant diet of human milk can create a more stable microbiome and stronger immune system. As the diet develops, eating processed foods lacking in nutrients (such as in the typical Western diet) can alter the microbiome and support the growth of bad microorganisms.
- Antibiotics: While using antibiotics is sometimes necessary to fight infection, they can cause the death of good bacteria and overgrowth of harmful bacteria. If not treated, this imbalance can result in poor health and can affect immune system function. (4)
- Over-consumption Of Sugar: The typical Western diet includes plenty of added sugar. This can negatively affect the microbiome, increasing inflammation, and weakening the gut lining. This can lead to obesity and other metabolic syndromes. (5)
Supporting Your Microbiome
Considering how much the gut microbiome affects the entire body, keeping it healthy should be a priority. There are many ways to easily support your microbiome, all of which can have a positive effect on overall health and keep your gut functioning optimally.
- A Diverse Diet Of Fruits & Vegetables: Studies show that incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet (of different varieties) can positively affect microbiome diversity and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria. The fiber that plants contain feeds good bacteria and acts as a powerful prebiotic. (6)
- Prebiotics: Certain prebiotics are the food of microorganisms, which are fermented and digested by them to stimulate growth and activity. These are not digestible by humans and are usually made of some type of fiber. Taking a prebiotic, or eating prebiotic foods, can allow good bacteria to flourish. (7)
- Probiotics: Probiotics are living microorganisms that are meant to support the microbiome. They can contain different strains of good microorganisms and can have different effects on the gut and body. They’re usually taken in capsule form, though fermented foods can sometimes be considered probiotic as they may contain naturally occurring bacteria. (7)
- Synbiotics: Synbiotics include both pre and probiotics in the same capsule. Seed’s Daily Synbiotic, for example, is contained in a 2-in-1 nested capsule containing clinically and scientifically-studied bacterial strains. The capsule design also ensures that the probiotics are delivered to the gut without being killed by stomach acid. The probiotics can get to work in supporting your microbiome, which can then support overall body health.
- The Microbiome. (2020, May 01). Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
- Quigley, E. (2013, September). Gut bacteria in health and disease. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/
- Bull, M., & Plummer, N. (2014, December). Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4566439/
- Hasan, N., & Yang, H. (2019, August 16). Factors affecting the composition of the gut microbiota, and its modulation. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6699480/
- Satokari, R. (2020, May 8). High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7284805/
- Klinder A;Shen Q;Heppel S;Lovegrove JA;Rowland I;Tuohy KM;. (n.d.). Impact of increasing fruit and vegetables and flavonoid intake on the human gut microbiota. Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26757793/
- Probiotics: What You Need To Know. (n.d.). Retrieved November 13, 2020, from https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/probiotics-what-you-need-to-know