Micro What? Microbiomes and Your Health
The role of your microbiome in your health
What is a microbiome?
The word microbiome is defined as the group of microbes or microorganisms that inhabit an environment and create a “mini-ecosystem” of sorts. The human microbiome encompasses a variety of symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic bacteria, (in addition to fungi and viruses), all of which reside either in or on our bodies.
These communities of microbes exist in unique and complimentary combinations, inhabiting everything from our eyes and mouth, to our skin, our genitals and our intestines. The different groups of bacteria from different areas of the body are known as microbiota. For example, we have skin microbiota, oral microbiota, vaginal microbiota, and gut microbiota (aka. gut “flora).
Some bacteria are only along for the free ride, whereas others (symbiotic bacteria) offer mutual benefit through their coexistence. In smaller numbers, opportunistic microbes do also exist; however they do not always cause disease.
Every person's microbiome is unique, a product of their genes, the foods they eat, and the environment they're exposed to.
How does our microbiome benefit us?
Our microbiome has a variety of functions, which are essential to not only our health and wellbeing, but also to our survival. Some of the benefits of our bacterial flora include (but are not limited to):
Your bacterial flora is a part of your immune system:
There is cross-talk between your intestinal flora and your immune system. Your immune system will up-regulate or down-regulate certain factors, in response to changes in gut bacteria
Our gut microbiota is essential for the breakdown and absorption of nutrients. Without our intestinal flora, our food would be indigestible and we wouldn't be able to extract critical nutritional compounds.
Your good bacteria keep the bad bacteria at bay. Your flora is part of your defense system against pathogens.
Why should we care?
Imbalances in our microbiome have been implicated in countless health issues, such as autoimmue diseases, inflammation, metabolic diseases and our psychological well-being.
Researchers suggest that understanding relationships between changes in microbiota and the immune system has the potential to revolutionize public health.
How can we enhance our microbiome?
Supplementing with prebiotics and probiotics:
Probiotics introduce beneficial microbes into the gut, and prebiotics are a source of nutrition for microbes that are already present in the gut
Consuming fermented foods:
Fermented foods are a natural source of probiotics – sources include: kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, natto, kombucha, tempeh etc.
Natural source of prebiotics include banana, leeks, onion, garlic
Dr. Zeeanna Hadani