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The Microbiome – Exploring The Body’s Ecosystem

August 2, 2015

From even a purely biological perspective, it is now clear that human beings are not simply individuals who have developed from a fertilised egg. We are actually entire ecosystems.

The human ‘microbiome’ is the term for this complex system of all microorganisms that live in association with the human body. These communities consist of a variety of microorganisms including eukaryotes, archaea, bacteria and viruses.

This microbiome has a huge impact on many different aspects of our health. Everything from the food we eat to the way we’re born influences the species of bacteria that take up residence in our bodies and, in turn, these bacteria appear to influence many aspects of our health from digestion to immune function and mental health.

Approx. 100 trillion bacteria are found throughout an average human body – ten times more than the number of human cells (those that develop from the sperm and egg of our parents to shape a human body). These bacteria also have a total of about 1000 more genes than are present in the human genome (the organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes). To clarify this point, each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus.

Because of their small size, microorganisms actually only make up approx. 1- 3% of our total body mass (2 – 6lbs of bacteria in a 200lb adult). These microbes are generally not harmful to us and indeed they are essential for maintaining health. For example, they produce some vitamins that we do not have the genes to make, break down our food to extract vital nutrients, teach our immune systems how to recognize pathogens (dangerous invaders) and even produce various anti-inflammatory compounds that attack other disease-causing microbes.

A large and increasing number of studies have demonstrated that changes in the composition of our microbiomes correlate with numerous chronic diseases, raising the possibility that manipulation of these communities could be used to treat disease.

Along with genes from the parents, microbiomes can also be inherited. Many bacteria are picked up directly from the mother at birth and shortly afterwards from the immediate environment. There is now a strong suggestion that some genetic diseases may well be inherited from genes that are bacterial.
Unfortunately, due to lifestyle and environmental factors, the vast majority of the population have an imbalance in gut flora which greatly increases the possibility of chronic illness.

These lifestyle and environmental factors include, but are not limited to the following:

Processed sugar
Artificial sweeteners of any kind (found in “diet” beverages and food items, chewing gum, and even toothpaste)
Chlorinated water
Agricultural chemicals and pesticides
Antibiotics (from medications and/or antibiotics found in meat and dairy products that we ingest)
Ready meals
Processed foods in general

So what else can we do to support a healthy microbiome in addition to considering the above ? This is a complex question that I often explore with clients as part of my integrative mind-body approach to health. However, there are a few supplements (assuming appropriate dosage and quality) that will often deliver some significant benefits:

Omega 3 Oils
Antioxidant Vitamins (especially A,C and E)

Spencer Joseph

From → The Gut

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