Have you heard of the microbiome? You may or may not know this but we have a whole world of living species growing and eating and dying inside of us – strange to think about, huh?
Now, more than ever, we are learning about the billions and trillions of bacteria that live inside our gut, or gastrointestinal tract. We wanted to break down the science for you so that it is easier to understand.
Well, what is the gut microbiome anyway?
In her book, Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, Giulia Enders writes, “Our gut is the most amazing giant forest ever, populated by the weirdest creatures.” Are you imagining a forest with strange creatures? Maybe they have multiple heads or limbs, crawling, jumping, or slithering around? I am.
But that is exactly what the environment in our gut is: a dynamic and complex ecosystem that is unique to individuals… meaning that there are no two microbiomes that are the exact same – like fingerprints! This microbial profile includes: bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses within the gastrointestinal tract.
Our gut microbiome contains approximately 100 trillion bacteria! In fact, researchers have confirmed that 1 gram of feces (poop) contains more bacteria than there are people on Earth. All this “life” inside the gut alone can weigh up to 4.5 lbs. Just imagine a 5 lb. bag of flour as a comparison.
What does this ecosystem do?
So much! The little creatures inside our gut do a lot for our body.
Just some of the known roles of the microbiota include:
- Supplying our body with energy to move, blink, breathe and more
- Creating vitamins essential for body function (i.e. Vitamin K for blood clotting, B vitamins for metabolism)
- Breaking down toxins and medications
- Training and strengthening our immune system
- Influencing weight regulation
- Digesting food so that the nutrients can be absorbed
- Holding responsibility for blood group type
- Manufacturing acids, gases, fats
Like other systems in our body, the digestive system loves balance, or homeostasis, so it will do whatever it can to maintain this peace. Unfortunately, when it is out of whack or unbalanced, things can get tricky.
This imbalance is called dysbiosis, defined as a microbial profile different from a healthy individual. Essentially, the proportions of microbes are skewed.
According to recent research, dysbiosis has been detected in the following conditions:
- Chronic digestive problems
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Autoimmune diseases (i.e. Arthritis)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Depression and Major depressive disorder
- Neurodevelopmental illnesses and diseases (i.e. Autism Spectrum Disorder, Multiple Sclerosis)
Our bodies are amazing. We have an entire ecosystem inside of us providing essential mechanisms to keep our body healthy and working properly. Research in this area is ongoing and we have a lot of information to share, so be on the lookout for more posts about the specific roles of the gut microbiome!
One final thought: The term microbiota means “little life.”
Enders, Giulia. 2018. Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ (Revised Edition)