Until recently, the term microbiome was not one you heard very often.
Though generally attributed to Nobel laureate microbiologist Joshua Lederberg, there is some debate about when and where the term first appeared and in what context. But regardless of its disputed origin, the word has become increasingly important as science continues to uncover more about the link between the bacteria inside our bodies and how it impacts our health.
WHAT IS THE MICROBIOME?
The human microbiome is the vast collection of microorganisms in and on the body, primarily in the digestive tract, that is known to support internal balance and health. It is made up of about 40 trillion bacterial cells, most of which are beneficial and promote good digestion and health, along with other types of neutral and harmful bacteria
The key to a healthy microbiome is making sure the beneficial and neutral bacteria outnumber the harmful bacteria, which is why we so often hear about the importance of maintaining a balanced gut.
HOW DOES THE MICROBIOME DEVELOP?
It was long believed that babies received their first dose of bacteria in the birth canal during delivery, but new research indicates our initial exposure may happen even earlier.
A study published a few years back in the journal Science Translational Medicine suggests the placenta (an organ that begins to develop shortly after fertilization and nourishes the developing fetus throughout pregnancy) is home to a “low-abundance but metabolically rich microbiome.” This contradicts what scientists previously believed: that a mother’s womb is a sterile environment.
Not only that, but in looking at more than 300 samples from a combination of vaginal, cesarean, full-term and pre-term births, study authors noticed the bacteria found in the placentas—roughly a few hundred different types—didn’t look like the bacteria found in the stomachs of the newborn babies. Rather, they resembled the bacterial community in the mouth of the mother. This led scientists to conclude that the mother’s oral bacteria could reach the developing baby via the bloodstream, and to stress the importance of oral health during pregnancy and even before.
Another study found similar evidence, revealing that both the placenta and the amniotic fluid harbor a “distinct microbiota.” Based on their findings, study authors believe that the process of gut bacteria colonization in infants has its origins in the womb.
DOES EVERYONE’S MICROBIOME LOOK ALIKE?
On the contrary, each individual’s microbiome is unique, which is why you’ll often hear scientists refer to it as a “microbial fingerprint.” However, while no two microbiomes will ever be exactly alike, studies have found that our internal bacteria will often resemble the bacteria of the people we live with, including our parents, siblings, spouses and even our dogs.
And, because the body is a vast and complex system with many different “habitats,” scientists have determined that different types of bacteria have adapted to inhabit different areas of the body, with the largest and most diverse bacterial community located in the gut.
This is why we say roughly 70 percent of your immune system is in your gut—because it’s where the majority of your beneficial microbes live and work to keep your body healthy and in balance.
HOW DOES THE MICROBIOME IMPACT HEALTH?
“Researchers are finding that the gut microbes are important for health because they impact many fundamental biological processes, such as digestion, nutrition, gut function, immunity and metabolism.”
This is what Dr. Elaine Hsiao, Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology at UCLA, had to say on the subject in a recent interview with Renew Life, and a growing number of studies continues to confirm and expand upon her statement.
Earlier this year, a review was published in the journal SN Comprehensive Clinical Medicine that explored the most current literature on the subject of the gut microbiota and its impact on human health. Pointing out that science continues to find new connections between gut bacteria and wellness, the study authors stated that “it is of paramount importance that all clinicians be aware of the most up-to-date literature in this field.”
The review offers an in-depth look at how the human microbiome develops, how antibiotics can upset a healthy internal balance and reduce the number of good bacteria in the gut, and the role of exercise in improving microbial diversity. But, perhaps most importantly, it explores the connection between gut bacteria and numerous body systems and processes, including brain function, metabolism, immune health and more.
In 2019 alone, studies have been published already linking the gut microbiome to mood and mental health, liver function,cardiometabolic syndrome, sleep and weight management, lung health—and that’s just the beginning. It’s exciting to think of what scientists will uncover next as they continue to examine the connection between gut bacteria and a healthy body.
HOW DO PROBIOTICS FIT INTO THE EQUATION?
As we mentioned before, many of the bacterial cells in your body are beneficial microorganisms that work to maintain balance in the gut and bring about all those benefits scientists keep discovering.
While these good bacteria exist within our microbiome, their numbers can be depleted over time by factors such as stress, our environment, eating unhealthy foods, taking certain medications, and even just the normal aging process.
When our gut microbial balance is thrown out of whack, it’s not just our digestive health that suffers; our whole body can feel the effects of an unhealthy gut—from our mood and memory to our sleep patterns, weight and, of course, our immune function.
However, making sure we get additional good bacteria throughout life can increase our chances of maintaining a well-balanced gut. Probiotics are live microorganisms that can be found naturally in some foods or ingested in the form of a daily probiotic supplement to add to our good bacteria stores. It’s also important to consume plenty of prebiotics to provide nourishment for your beneficial gut microbes.
(You can read more about how probiotics and prebiotics work together here.)
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO SUPPORT MY MICROBIOME?
You may not realize it, but there are many things you can do every day to support a healthy, well-balanced microbiome. Here are a few examples.
Exercise. Studies like this one provide evidence that regular physical activity has a positive impact on our beneficial gut bacteria and may promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Most experts recommend 30 minutes of moderate exercise five times a week.
Manage stress. A recent Canadian study involving squirrels found a link between stress and an unhealthy microbiome, which scientists believe is applicable to human health. In testing the animals, they determined that the squirrels with higher stress levels had less bacterial diversity and an increase in the number of potentially harmful bacteria in the gut. However, those with lower stress levels had more bacterial diversity and a greater number of good bacteria. To support a healthy microbiome, try these 4 Simple Tips to Help Manage Stress.
Get enough sleep. Did you know too little sleep can impact your gut microbial balance? Specifically, research has linked sleep loss to insulin sensitivity and changes in healthy blood sugar—two symptoms often seen in people with metabolic disorders including obesity and type 2 diabetes. Try to aim for at least seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
Eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition and a healthy microbiome go hand in hand. A study published in the journal Gut found that individuals who followed a Mediterranean diet—one rich in healthy fats, protein and fiber from fruit, leafy greens, nuts and legumes—had higher levels of beneficial short-chain fatty acids in their guts. SCFAs help to regulate microbial metabolism and promote overall health.
SUPPORT YOUR MIGHTY MICROBIOME WITH RENEW LIFE
As a leader in digestive wellness, Renew Life understands the importance of a diverse, well-balanced microbiome to support optimal digestion and a healthy body—which is why all of our once-daily probiotics, digestive enzymes, herbal cleansing formulas, fiber and Omega-3 fish oil supplements work together to help you maintain internal balance and support a strong foundation of health.*