I’ve been completely engrossed over the past month in learning about the human microbiome. While I am totally into all the science behind it, I realize that not everyone finds it as super fucking cool as I do. I’ve decided to do a series on the human microbiome and the gut play an integral role in our current and future health. Welcome to Part 1! I’ll do my best to keep these posts easy reading.
Get this: our bodies are home to more than 100 trillion bacterial cells. 100 trillion! It’s estimated that we have 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells. We are more bacteria than we are human.
The collection of bacterial microbes is known as the microbiome. It’s like human version of an environmental ecosystem. The composition of our microbiome determines much about how the body functions and, sadly, sometimes malfunctions.
Here’s a fun video that explains it really simply:
The majority of our bacteria live in our intestines. Some of the bacteria are good, some are bad. It’s no surprise, then, that the health of our gut is inextricably connected to our health status. I’ve posted about the implications of having a leaky gut and how it can increase the occurrence of obesity, mental disorders (depression, anxiety, and autism), and gut disorders (IBS, Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, etc), autoimmune disorders (rheumatoid arthritis), and so much more.
This chart gives you a basic picture of what I’m talking about:
Ok… so now you can see that having a suboptimal gut is bad news. So what causes a sub-optimal gut?
– the dietary toxins of the Standard American Diet (grains, vegetable oils, refined sugar, conventional meat)
– Cesarian birth
– formula feeding
– antibiotic use, especially broad spectrum
– chronic stress
– lack of sleep
Let’s take a closer look at just a few of these:
The average American child receives three courses of antibiotics in the first two years of life, and eight more during the next eight years. While the popular Z-pack (azithromycin) is only taken for 5 days, it can result in long-term shifts in the body’s microbial environment. Antibiotics are often necessary for treating acute infections, but broad-spectrum antibiotics are so often prescribed and they act like carpet bombers, destroying our precious good bacteria along with the bad.
Cesarean deliveries, the rates of which have soared in recent decades, encourage the growth of microbes from the mother’s skin, instead of from the birth canal, in the baby’s gut. This change in microbiota can reshape a baby’s metabolism and immune system. Recently, a review of 15 studies involving 163,796 births found that, compared with babies delivered vaginally, C-section babies were 26 percent more likely to be overweight and 22 percent more likely to be obese as adults.
There are also major differences in the microorganisms living in the guts of normal-weight people and obese people. Although we don’t know which came first — the weight problem or the altered microbiota — studies show that the but bacteria of obese mice extract more calories from food.
This one scares the crap out of me (bad pun): there is evidence of a link to obesity that comes from farm animals. About three-fourths of the antibiotics sold in the United States are used in livestock. Antibiotics change the microbiota of these animals in order to speed growth. When we eat conventional meat, we are investing these antibiotics and altering our own microbiota.
Like ecosystems around the world, the human microbiome is losing its diversity, to the detriment of our health.
If you got this far- thanks! Part two of these posts will discuss how we can protect our guts and our health by weeding out bad bacteria, seeding it with good bacteria, and feeding that good bacteria so it thrives. Here’s to good guts!
p.s. I recently ordered our uBiome kits… you in?
References and way cool additional reading:
The Microbes in our Gut are Essential to our Well Being at scientificamerican.com
9 Steps to Perfect Health: #5 Heal Your Gut at chriskresser.com
We are our Bacteria at nytimes.com
Missing Microbes at martinblaser.com
What the Bacteria in your Gut have to do with Your Physical and Mental Health at huffingtonpost.com
You are Mainly Microbiome from PBS Digital Studios
Human Microbiome Project from The National Institute of Health