I was thinking about the strange notion of healthy bacteria and the microbiome recently, so I dove into the subject, scanning news articles and studies. The information I got was rather interesting, so I thought Iâd share what came of my research with you.
The microbiome has been one of those hot topics in medicine in the past few years. If youâre unfamiliar with it, âmicrobiomeâ is the term used to describe the bacterial ecosystem inside your body. Itâs responsible for physiological processes like immune responses, digestion and nutrient transport, and your susceptibility to conditions like weight gain, diabetes, and colon cancer.
There are so many factors that play a role in how your own microbiome appears and the landscape of the trillions of bacteria living inside you. These factors include:
- Your diet
- Your genetics
- Where you live
- What youâre exposed to
Alterations to your environment, lifestyle, and diet can all create changes to this vast population of bacteria.
So is there such thing as a âhealthyâ microbiome? Thatâs an interesting question thatâs met with varying responses. Thereâs been research showing that people can be in perfect health with what looks like an âunhealthy microbiome.â For example, the microbiome of a completely healthy pregnant woman resembles the microbiome of a person with metabolic syndrome.
Iâve taken probiotics in the past to help with digestion, and theyâve worked. I wouldnât say that I was unhealthy when I took them; I simply needed them for a brief period of time to get back on track. Other people have gone through procedures, like fecal transplants, that have been successful in helping them.
I believe a diverse microbiome is healthy, and that if youâre not sick, thereâs no reason to stress over it. Your microbiome is a very specialized, individualized system; two perfectly healthy people can have a vastly different bacterial environment inside them. If you eat a balanced diet and your body is functioning at a high level (you donât feel ill), youâve probably got a suitable microbiome for yourself. Therefore, you likely donât need probiotics or other products marketed towards developing a healthy microbiome.
There have been some people who advocate re-engineering the microbiome to a more ânaturalâ state, getting it back to how it used to look hundreds of years ago or how it still looks in some communities around the world today. But this can be dangerous. There are different demands and risks for people living in, say, New York City as compared to those who live in a small, rural community in Papua New Guinea. The microbiome of people who live in these regions will reflect that. Simply put, thereâs no âone-size-fits-allâ microbiome standard.
The best way to be sure your microbiome is healthy for you is to simply listen to your body. If youâre feeling ill or off, or your body just isnât functioning as it normally would, then probiotic foods may be the answer.
Sources for Todayâs Article:
Belluck, P., âA Promising Pill, Not So Hard to Swallow,â New York Times web site, October 11, 2014; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/12/us/a-promising-pill-not-so-hard-to-swallow.html?_r=0.
Koren, O., et al., âHost remodeling of the gut microbiome and metabolic changes during pregnancy,â Cell August 3, 2012; 150(3): 470â80, doi: 10.1016/j.call.2012.07.008.
Ding, T. and Schloss, P.D., âDynamics and associations of microbial community types across the human body,â Nature May 15, 2014; 509(7500): 357â60, doi: 10.1038/nature13178.
Kodaman, N., et al., â Human and Helicobacter pylori coevolution shapes the risk of gastric disease,â PNAS January 28, 2014; 111(40: 1455â60, doi:10.1073/pnas.1318093111.
Yong, E., âThere Is No âHealthyâ Microbiome,â New York Times web site, November 1, 2014; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/opinion/sunday/there-is-no-healthy-microbiome.html.