What is a Microbiome
A microbiome is like an entire community of microorganisms living on us and inside1 (think of the microbiome as the environment of a certain location). Our microbiome is made up of bacteria, fungi, viruses and other microorganisms (or microbiota) that are meant to regulate the environment of our body.2 While we mostly hear about our microbiome in reference to our gut and digestive health, we have a microbiome for other body parts too, like our skin.
Because our microbiome affects lots of different health outcomes, we want to make sure that we have a stable microbiome. It’s difficult to understand what that looks like, though, because early research into this topic indicates that microorganisms vary not only from person to person but also within the sameperson!3
Research in this field is still very early and scientists are finding better ways to look at our microbiomes to ultimately help us learn more about our bodies.4 Just look at all the interesting research that has been done on the topic of microbiomes recently!
Interesting Topics: How Your Microbiome Affects You
Mother’s & Transfer of Microbiomes To Babies
Our microbiome can be greatly influenced when we are babies.3 Specifically, researchers have found that babies that are breastfed have a gut microbiome more similar to their mothers, as compared to formula-fed babies.5 Researchers have even found that babies that actually feed from the breast, as compared to those that drink pumped breastmilk, have the best chance of gaining microbes from the mother.6 Scientists know that the impact on the gut microbiome early in life has long-lasting effects on our immune health as adults and are even exploring the potential connection between breastfeeding and the prevention of allergies.7
Your skin microbiome is important because a properly functioning skin flora helps our skin retain moisture and protects us against infections and potentially aggravating agents from our environment.2 Our skin flora is really important because an out of balance skin flora can often be linked to sensitive skin - an issue so widespread that 60-70% of American women and 50-60% of American men report having it.2 Dermatologists recommend avoiding cleansers with harsh sulfates that remove healthy fats from our skin microbiome.2
Gut Microbiome & Poop
The poop of a healthy individual is actually a really interesting and effective way of treating certain imbalances in the gut microbiome. Researchers have found that transferring a donor’s healthy stool sample into the intestinal tract of somebody who is suffering from a C. difficile infection8 (a bacteria which can cause inflammation of the colon8), can treat the infection.9 There is even a project called rePOOPulation which is exploring how a synthetic stool substitute, derived from healthy donor stool, could help regulate the gut microbiome!10
You may have heard the common phrase ‘gut-mind connection.’ There’s actually a lot of truth to that! There is a complex relationship between our gut microbiome and our brain. Scientists are interested in exploring this connection further and have found that gut microbiome function and mental well-being are closely linked.11 One example of this can be seen in the fact that individuals with mental health conditions, such as depression, also have an imbalance of their gut microbiome.11
One topic of interest regarding the gut microbiome is how COVID-19 can impact our gut microbiome. A study by the Chinese University in Hong Kong found that the gut microbiome of people that suffered from COVID-19, compared to those who didn’t experience it, were significantly different.12 The researchers found that there were microbiome imbalances which corresponded to the severity of the COVID cases that people suffered.12 Scientists even believe that such imbalances in the gut microbiome could affect the long-term health of people that had contracted the coronavirus.12
Stable Microbiome & Probiotics
You may have heard of probiotics being used to regulate gut health. In essence, probiotics are foods and supplements that are meant to improve good bacteria so that we can maintain our digestive health.
However, they are not a miracle cure, especially because probiotic supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA in the US. There are situations where probiotics might be helpful for stabilizing your gut microbiome, such as:
- When an individual is in infancy or is elderly, as their microbes are weaker at these stages1
- Restoring balance to your intestine after taking antibiotics1
And it’s not just knowing what situations it might be best to take probiotics, but also to recognize that getting benefits from probiotics can be really hard. In order to actually get benefits from probiotics, they need to be able to survive the acidic environment of our stomach and make it to our small intestine,13 which is a challenge that scientists are researching today.
Probiotics may play a big role in regulating our gut health, and our microbiome (of the gut and other parts of our body) plays a big role in our lives, keeping us healthy and balanced. Research on these topics is still new and there is a lot that we can still learn about our microbiome and probiotics to live longer and healthier lives, you can even get involved in this kind of research today!
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1. Boston 677 Huntington Avenue, Ma 02115 +1495‑1000. The Microbiome. The Nutrition Source. Published August 16, 2017. Accessed July 29, 2021. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/
2. What Is Your Microbiome? A Wellness Trend Taking On Post-Covid Urgency - WSJ. Accessed July 29, 2021. https://www.wsj.com/articles/microbiome-gut-health-11623155936?mod=wsjmag_bucket2
3. Stability and individuality of adult microbiota. Accessed July 29, 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d42859-019-00012-4
4. Society M. What is a microbiome? Accessed July 29, 2021. https://microbiologysociety.org/blog/what-is-a-microbiome.html
5. Gut bacteria may help explain benefits of breastfeeding. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-breastfeeding-microbiome-idUSKBN1852EC. Published May 9, 2017. Accessed July 29, 2021.
6. Mom and baby share “good bacteria” through breast milk. UBC Faculty of Medicine. Published July 10, 2020. Accessed July 29, 2021. https://www.med.ubc.ca/news/mom-and-baby-share-good-bacteria-through-breast-milk/
7. van den Elsen LWJ, Garssen J, Burcelin R, Verhasselt V. Shaping the Gut Microbiota by Breastfeeding: The Gateway to Allergy Prevention? Front Pediatr. 2019;0. doi:10.3389/fped.2019.00047
8. C. difficile infection - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic. Accessed July 29, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/c-difficile/symptoms-causes/syc-20351691
9. Gupta S, Allen-Vercoe E, Petrof EO. Fecal microbiota transplantation: in perspective. Therap Adv Gastroenterol. 2016;9(2):229-239. doi:10.1177/1756283X15607414
10. Stool substitute transplant therapy for the eradication of Clostridium difficile infection: ‘RePOOPulating’ the gut | Microbiome | Full Text. Accessed July 29, 2021. https://microbiomejournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2049-2618-1-3
11. Limbana T, Khan F, Eskander N. Gut Microbiome and Depression: How Microbes Affect the Way We Think. Cureus. 12(8):e9966. doi:10.7759/cureus.9966
12. Yeoh YK, Zuo T, Lui GC-Y, et al. Gut microbiota composition reflects disease severity and dysfunctional immune responses in patients with COVID-19. Gut. 2021;70(4):698-706. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2020-323020
13. Corcoran BM, Stanton C, Fitzgerald GF, Ross RP. Survival of Probiotic Lactobacilli in Acidic Environments Is Enhanced in the Presence of Metabolizable Sugars. Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005;71(6):3060-3067. doi:10.1128/AEM.71.6.3060-3067.2005