In the world of hygiene-obsessed societies–at least in the developed world–it might be gross for someone to ponder on a host of bacteria teeming in our guts. Save your yucks for your next burger – however disgusting it may seem to be, the cooperation of the microbiome and the body is really a fascinating thing.
Image Credit: economist.com
We dress with sophistication and strive to make every inch of our skin perfect. The average contemporary girl strives to look flawless, and the very neatness of the ideal shared by millions contrasts with what is actually happening in us and on us: trillions of germs are happy to multiply in out guts, on our skin, and some even make it to the bloodstream, where they see another Home Sweet Home sign.
The average person carries around 3 to 4 kg of bacteria in the gut. They line the intestine (not the small one – it is normally sterile) in layers, cooperate, process things our bodies cannot or do not want to process, and fight for their in-human motherland against invaders, thus contributing to your health.
In fact, the germs living within the body outnumber the cells of which the human themselves is made up – we are not as vastly outnumbered as it had been thought until new evidence emerged, but the numbers of our colonizers are still impressive.
BFF: Bacterial Friends Forever
Undoubtedly, if they were dwelling there for no reason, our body would expel them – or at least develop some mechanisms that would help to eliminate the unwanted occupants. The truth is, our microbiome is something that can affect the processes happening in the body significantly.
There are different kinds of bacteria living in the colon, and the diversity of this micro society is an issue which has been fascinating scientists for decades. They have a lot of things to do in the gut: some of them consume the mucus your tissues produce, others specialize in breaking down starches and other chemicals the processing of which the body prefers to delegate to these little helpers, and their activities affect a wide range of body functions, from the immune system to hormone levels to the nervous system.
Despite the fact that the colon is home to around 35,000 species, there are major families–they are something of a gut mafia that rules the germ community–with the most significant impact. These are Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes. Recent research suggests that the domination of one family over the other is indicative of proneness to diseases and other peculiarities of body functioning. For instance, obese people tend to have more Firmicutes than Bacteridetes, suggesting they could play a significant role in hormone regulation and other mechanisms involved in body mass regulation.
Can I alter my microbiome?
What inhabits your colon is largely determined by what you eat, but it is not the only factor: where you live (countryside dwellers and those living in cities have different microbiomes), what medications you take, whom you live with, etc.
As of this moment, there is no known “normal” microbiome: every germ community is tailored to your body’s needs and shaped by various factors, many of which you cannot control. There are even researchers who strive to find out whether there is an opportunity to adjust the microbiome to boost performance in athletes – such an approach may well end up in the emergence of poop doping (sic!).
Sports aside, we can make our microbiome more diverse by consuming foods rich in microorganisms, and kefir is one of them. This is not to say that eating yoghurt can cure any disease, but it is a healthy habit which can be considered by nearly anyone – including those with lactose intolerance, because milk-based foods processed by bacteria are generally safe to eat and drink.
We don’t know much about the human microbiome, but one thing is known for sure: it can have a significant effect on our health. It can even be considered an organ, given how great its impact can be.
Role of the normal gut microbiota – wjgnet.com/bpg
Association between body mass index and Firmicutes/Bacteroidetes ratio in an adult Ukrainian population – bmcmicrobiol.biomedcentral.com
Does Your Gut Hold the Secret to Performance? – outsideonline.com