Articles about the human microbiome and its exciting roles in human health seem to be popping up in the news almost daily. While all the hype may seem like a new phenomenon, people have been fascinated by the tiny, single-celled organisms living all around us since Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek first saw them under a microscope in 1676. But when biologists learned that bacteria and other microbes are responsible for some of the devastating illnesses that humans face, including the plague, some forms of cancer, and C. difficile infections, their reputation tanked. Rather than fascination, the public opinion of microbes turned to one of fear and disgust, resulting in a culture of sterilization. It seems as though all we want is to rid the world of microbes. While some microbes can wreak havoc on our systems, the majority of them are extremely beneficial, and our world without them wouldn’t last long enough for us to enjoy the lack of germs.
Microbes make our world the comfortable, well-tended, and habitable place that we all love and recognize – but what does this have to do with gut health? It turns out that not only is our earth teeming with these busy bugs, but our own bodies are, too! Our collection of microbes and their genes make up the human microbiome. Our personal microbiomes are made up of approximately 39 trillion bacterial cells - in fact, the microbial cells in and on our bodies outnumber our own human cells!1 With all the microbes dominating our bodies, our gut is the hub of it all, containing more bacteria and species of bacteria than any other part of our microbiome!2 Our intestines are positively teeming with microbes that make our guts healthier and run more – ahem – smoothly.
These multitudes of microbes take on a variety of tasks, including aiding our digestion, maintaining a healthy intestinal lining, and controlling the immune system. A healthy gut microbiome can also influence aspects of our health we don’t typically associate with our guts – like our moods!3 Named the “gut-brain axis,” the connection between our guts and our brains allows for our gut to send signals to our brain about how our bodies are doing, which can influence our moods and how we feel4. So, if you are feeling grumpy, or sad, or nervous take a moment to check in with your gut. These benefits, among others, makes our gut microbiomes particularly important - just as microbes keep our planet healthy, they do the same for us.
As with all health benefits, building a bustling microbiome is not a quick fix. Instead, caring for your microbiome is a lifestyle change that can include many components, such as changing your diet, your medication use, or your exercise habits. These changes are not one size fits all, so it’s important to find the balance that feels best to you. And however this balance may look in your life, the important thing is that you will be helping your microbiome become a more diverse community that can truly thrive - a healthy, happy microbiome leads to a healthy, happy YOU. The more that we learn about our relationship with our friendly co-habitators the clearer it becomes that a thriving microbiome is crucial for our overall health and well-being. It’s no wonder that the microbiome has become such a hot topic!
- Crew, B. (2018, April 11). Here's How Many Cells in Your Body Aren't Actually Human. Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/how-many-bacteria-cells-outnumber-human-cells-microbiome-science
- Quigley, E. M. M. (2013). Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 9(9), 560–569.
- Tillisch, K. (2017). Brain Structure and Response to Emotional Stimuli as Related to Gut Microbial Profiles in Healthy Women. Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, 79(8), 905-913. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000493