THE MICROBIOME: AM I HUMAN OR BACTERIA?
It totally spins me out and blows my mind every single time I read facts about the microbiome. I can’t help but wonder, “am I only part human?” In terms of cell numbers I am (and you are) only about 10% human, the rest is bacteria!
Bacteria — along with viruses and fungi — are microbes, and we’re filled with them. Until now you may have thought your body was home to only one organism: you.
Well, this is the amazing true story about you and a trillion of your closest (microbial) friends; the microbiome.
There are in fact around 100 trillion bacteria in and on your body right now. Up to 500 different species! Don’t be worried or feel the need to run to the shower. It’s all good news! In fact, without them we’d be in trouble.
For each one of your human cells — that is, for every cell that’s “you” there are an estimated 10 microbial cells. Then, each of these microbial cells are made up out of their own individual microbiomes, too tiny to be seen with the naked eye.
Now, if that’s not staggering, lets take a look at your genes. Our human genes are out numbered by 100 to 1 by microbial genes. Does this mean we are genetically 1% human and 99% bacterial! Wow, now it’s hurting my brain! Each one of us is a walking bacterial colony.
WHERE DID MY MICROBIOME COME FROM?
Even if this is the first you’re hearing of your “microbiome,” you’ve actually been living with bacteria since before you were born.
It is believed that the first plantation of essential bacteria begins in the mother’s womb, with a transfer of microbes across the placenta. (This is new science – you can read the study here) Then, during the process of birth, when a new baby passes through the birth canal it gets coated with all kinds of bodily fluids (microbes) from mum. Instantly these microbes kind of seed the baby with just the right mix. Then, a baby’s first food – colostrum from breast milk – along and other microbes encountered in the baby’s environment begin to shape a young microbiome for life. The overall mix of bacteria becomes very personal, kind of like a fingerprint or our blood type. It’s not surprisingly that our microbiomes tend to look a lot like our parents, or brothers and sisters.
WHERE DO BACTERIA LIVE?
Microbes live all over your body; on your skin and inside your mouth, your nose, your genitalia, urinary tract, and intestines.
The types of microbes on your body vary depending on where they live. Just like different ecosystems found in nature. There are wet places, oily places and dry places. But the biggest and most important habitat is in the gut. Often referred to as your gut flora, the bacteria here are the most complex and the most diverse. If something is wrong with your gut flora something is usually wrong with you!
SO WHAT IS ALL THAT BACTERIA DOING?
The bacteria in the microbiome:
- help digest our food
- produce essential nutrients like vitamins B, vitamin 12, vitamin K, thiamine, and riboflavin
- regulate our immune system and protect us against disease
- control the growth of bad bacteria
- regulate our metabolism – how much energy we burn and how much fat we store
- impact our behaviour and mental health.
These bacteria are essential colonizers and should not be considered invaders or harmful. Feed them well to cultivate a healthy gut environment for them to flourish. Due to their sheer number, it’s not surprising that the state of our gut has a major impact on our overall health.
Most of the microbiome facts in this post were taken from Youtube videos on A Gut TV. Please be in touch if you have any important points I should ad.