Introduction to the Microbiome
Today I’d like to give you an introduction to your microbiome. As you will learn, they play a huge role in shaping who we are.
The human digestive tract houses bacteria, yeasts, fungi, viruses, molds, protozoa, and worms totaling about five pounds, and numbering in the trillions.
When referring to their community, we now call this mass of microbes our “microbiome.” And when referring to their category, we call them either “gut flora,” “microflora” (old names), “microbiota” (new name), or simply “microbes.”
Together, your microbiome weight about 3-5 pounds. And they outnumber us by about 1 ½ to 1, all the way up to 100 to 1, depending on who you ask. Most say it’s 10 to 1.
There are about 10 trillion of them, which means they make up about 90% of all the genetic material inside the human body, to our own DNA’s 10%. That’s important because their DNA controls many aspects of being human that we used to think of as being determined exclusively by our own genes.
By comparison, our own bodies have 1/10 the number of cells – or 1 trillion. So we are just a shell … a habitat for this mass of microbes that are so fundamental to human health. So, if a person were to have their digestive system completely sterilized, they’d probably die–or at least be so disturbed mentally and physically they’d wish they were dead.
Have you thanked your microbiome for all the hard work they do?
Ninety percent of the digestive work that happens inside you is not done by human cells. Instead, it’s done by bacteria. The salivary glands, the stomach lining, pancreas, gallbladder, and liver. They make digestive substances that help break down food into smaller particles. But most of the heavy lifting of digestion is actually done by the enzymes of beneficial bacteria in your gut. They eat the food that you eat and turn it into bioavailable minerals, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and redox molecules.
Our microbiome nourishes and protects our physiology (our body) in many ways:
- They remove or neutralize heavy metals, chemicals, toxins, and foreign pathogens from the gut before they enter the body.
- They’re responsible for breaking down food (aka digestion).
- Gut flora produces vitamins.
- They help nutrients pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream.
- Most importantly, they modulate the immune system by helping to keep the gut wall tightly sealed while influencing immune cell activity.
Gut flora are also instrumental in determining our psychology–that is, our thoughts, feelings, and actions … and everything in between. Indeed, they play a large role in shaping our personality. (Who would have thunk?)
Our gut flora, and the food we feed them, truly make us who we are through these mechanisms and more:
- Neurotransmitters, hormones, and other biochemicals: They contribute to the production of neurotransmitters and hormones that control brain and nervous system function.
- Toxin exposure: Gut flora contributes to the health and integrity of the gut wall, the blood-brain barrier, and other membranes throughout the body. They prevent or permit toxins from getting into the brain and other places they’re not supposed to go.
- Epigenetics: They control how genes are expressed (i.e. turn genes on or off).
Editor-in-Chief of GutBrainSecrets.com. Author of 6 books about the causes, effects, and solutions to gut-brain problems (Gut-Brain Secrets). Compulsive learner/researcher, copywriter, educator, and knowledge-seeker.