Maybe that’s because you are vastly outnumbered by a veritable zoo of microbes that live in and on you!
Welcome to your microbiome.
The microbiome refers to all of the organisms that reside within you. That means; bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa and…worms. Nice.
If you were to weigh these microscopic beings, you would find they are one of the largest (and mostly forgotten) organs of the human body. About 1.3 kilos to be exact. That’s about the weight of your brain. Mind blowing, don’t you think (or maybe microbial blowing would be more apt).
To put it another way – you are not you:
The human body:
- 10 trillion cells
- 23 000 genes (give or take)
- 100 trillion microbial cells (yes, you read that right).
- 2-20 million microbial genes.
You and I are 99.9% the same genetically, but we may only share about 10% of our microbes.
These bugs make up about 99% of us (a ratio of 10 to 1 cells). They number so many that I’ve started to see myself as bugs in a really nice dress! Really, we are just hosts for our microbes.
The discovery of the microbiome is, perhaps, the greatest medical turnaround in the past 150 years. We can throw out the idea that bacteria are bad and disease causing. They only turn bad when we treat them so. For example, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) has received a really bad rap because it is one of the main causes of peptic ulcers. It turns out that H. pylori regulates acid production in the stomach AND helps to regulate ghrelin (the hormone that tells your brain when you need to eat) and leptin (the hormone that tells you you’ve had enough). So what happens when we ‘kill off’ H. pylori? Your microbiome has trouble turning on and off the fullness signal, which could mean weight gain.
So what are these microbes up to and why are they so important to health?
According to Dr Raphael Kellman, ‘they control every aspect of our physiology and can activate our greatest biological potential’.
Put more in Marnie’s terms, they:
- help us digest our food
- keep the lining of the gut nice and healthy
- keep naughty bacteria at bay (we should have a ratio of 85:15 good v naughty)
- train the immune system to recognise friend from foe (I’ll talk about the hygeine hypothesis in a later issue)
- convert sugars into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These are really important for energy production.
- modulate our genes
- help us use our vitamins and minerals.
Basically, they’re promiscuous little things, that are everywhere, involved in everything. Got a health issue? Your microbiome is most likely involved.
With this in mind, let’s take a tour of the digestive tract from mouth to anus and check out what’s going on. Read on….