The Human Microbiome

You might not be familiar with the term microbiome but it lives in all humans and is essential to good health.

  Simply put, “The human microbiome is all of the organisms living on and throughout the human body,” says Matthew J. Murray, M.D., who is an internal medicine physician with the Singing River Health System.

  Lindsey Calhoun, clinical dietitian with Memorial Health System, says, “Each person has a unique microbiome, much like a fingerprint. Our microbiome consists of trillions of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses that are present at different sites in or on our bodies, particularly in the gut. Some of these are beneficial, while others are potentially harmful. A balance is needed for overall good health.”

  The microbiome is typically bacteria that have evolved to live in a symbiotic relationship with us, Murray adds. “They protect us from infection from more dangerous bacteria (and even some viruses) and help with things such as digestion and even our immune system.”

  In return we provide the bacteria with protection from the elements, a food source, and a hydration source. “We could not live without our microbiome, but they can likely live without us,” he said. “Unfortunately sometimes this healthy balance gets upset through infection (basically too many bacteria or bacteria in a location that they do not belong) or can also be upset with the administration of antibiotics, which is why many antibiotics ‘cause’ diarrhea.”

  In reality the antibiotics themselves do not cause the diarrhea but they have killed some of our normal healthy and helpful bacteria in the gut therefore inhibiting our natural digestion ability.

  Calhoun says our microbiome changes according to our diet. “A large library of evidence suggests that the foods we eat have the potential to influence the intestinal microbiome, which can impact our immunity and overall health.”

  Generally, it’s always best to try to make dietary changes and follow a healthful diet first. “Focus on a whole foods-based diet that includes fiber, lean protein, and fruits and vegetables,” she said. “Also be sure to include probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kombucha, or kefir. Apart from food, you can also take probiotic supplements. Although they are generally considered safe, it’s always a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider before starting any supplement.”

  Some data suggests that a healthy gut microbiota is associated with positive emotions. Calhoun explains why there may be something to that. “The majority of the body’s supply of serotonin, which is known as the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter is produced in the gut. It is thought that gut bacteria may directly influence serotonin production, thus having a direct impact on a person’s mood,” she said.

  “Additionally, a few animal studies suggest that depression may be linked to an imbalance of gut bacteria. However, researchers still do not know exactly how gut bacteria affects brain function. We really need more human studies to establish a mood-microbiome connection.”

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