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A Primer on the Microbiome: What Is It and How Does It Benefit Our Health?

Posted by Brad Dennis, Ph.D. on

A Primer on the Microbiome: What Is It and How Does It Benefit Our Health?

Did you know that only 10% of our body cells are human?

The human body consists of dozens of trillions of cells. But only 10% of those cells are human. What are the other 90% of cells in our bodies you might ask? Well, many researches came to the same conclusion, we share our life with more than 100 trillion microorganisms and they are exactly what makes that other 90% of our entire cell number. These organisms are what scientists call human microbiome.

So, what is a human microbiome then?

Many of the life-sustaining functions in our body wouldn’t be possible without these microbiomes that contribute to supporting good gut health. In other words, without them, there is no us. And this symbiosis is exactly what attracted many scientists to discover what exactly what the microbiome is and the ways in which it contributes to those life-sustaining functions.

What is a Human Microbiome?

Our bodies are home to various pathogenic, symbiotic and commensal bacteria, and not only those. We are also hosts for viruses and fungi. Whatever organ or body part you choose, you will find these little occupants existing in complementary blends with their neighbors. Is microbiota the same as microbiome?

Partially, yes, microbiota stands for the cluster of bacteria specific to a body region. For instance, bacteria on skin is what we call skin microbiota, ones in our gut is gut microbiota or popularly known as gut flora.

Our microbiome, as it is now, is a result of a long process of evolution. The data from the study “The infant gut microbiome: evidence for obesity risk and dietary intervention” clearly shows that the seeding of the gut microbiome starts while babies are in utero.
Thanks to the Human Microbiome Project, we now know that there are more than 10 thousand different microbial species that make the human microbiome, and that understanding these microbial species holds the key to solving our biological puzzle.
Our microbiome also has health. Scientists have discovered that the health of our microbiome also determines our own health. In fact, if pathogens in the gut don’t coexist peacefully, it is a sign of poor gut health and an imbalance in our microbiome. A chronic imbalance in our gut microbiota, or gut flora, may lead to serious conditions and diseases.

How Does Microbiome Benefit Our Gut Health?

There are various studies that have shown that even the slightest imbalance in our microbiome may lead to disease. For instance, by using antibiotics, scientists decreased the number of four types of bacteria in lab animals’ guts, which led to obesity problems. Several studies also tell us that microbiome of healthy children compared to the autistic ones differs when it comes to the number of specific bacteria. Gut bacteria are also known to have an influence on immune system responses.

When it comes to benefits, one of the most well-known examples is the positive effect of gut flora on our immune system. During the microbiome lifecycle, various substances are produced and released in our gut. These substances help us defend against pathogenic bacteria, and they also form a barrier in the gastrointestinal tract that prevents pathogenic substances from going into the bloodstream.

The well-being of gut flora is also connected with our psychological well-being. The fact that testifies to this is that people with irritable bowel syndrome also have mood disorders.
Another benefit gut flora has for our health is well-regulated hormone levels. Some of the gut bacteria produce an enzyme that is responsible for reactivating estrogen so that it can be absorbed by the body.

As you can see, the connection between our microbiome and our body is very complex. One thing is certain, our health is connected with the health of our microbiome. Gut flora has a very important role in maintaining the overall balance in our body and ensuring that we stay in good overall health.


Effects of gut microbiota on the brain: implications for psychiatry
Fetal programming of overweight through the microbiome: boys are disproportionately affected
The infant gut microbiome: evidence for obesity risk and dietary intervention.
Why You Should Be Worried About Changes to The Microbiome
All About Flora: How Important Gut Health Really Is


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