In my post on how to promote a strong immune system I discussed how our bodies either receive and thrive from what we put in them or wrestle against the ill effects of trying to handle substances they weren’t intended for.
If you’ve been following any type of health news lately you’ve likely heard of the microbiome and how important it is to nearly every aspect of our health, but you may be wondering
“what in the world is a microbiome?!”
That’s what I’m hear to discuss today and I couldn’t be more excited! Learning about the human microbiome may actually be one of my favorite things (total geek, I know). Today will be a very basic overview of this complex topic, but trust me there’s more to come!
The microbiome refers to all the organisms that live in or on your body. These organisms are bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and helminths (worms, found in some of us). Humans have approximately a hundred trillion microbes, which include thousands of different species, and we have more than a billion bacteria in just one drop of fluid from our colon alone! 
This may sound scary since we typically think of these organisms as being harmful, which is true for certain types or in certain quantities, especially with a suppressed immune system, but the reality is that these guys are our friends and bring us enormous benefits! They are involved in every aspect of our health including our digestive wellness, likelihood of being obese, our risk of developing cancer or diabetes, and even our mental health. Lita Proctor, a scientist at the National Human Genome Institute and director of the Human Microbiome Project, says “much of the scientific literature for decades and decades has been completely focused on pathogens, and that has also framed our point of view about microbes. But it has become clear that the vast majority of microbes we come in contact with on a daily basis are not pathogenic. They are either benign and couldn’t care less that there is a human nearby or they actually provide a benefit.”  (So take a deep breath and drop the hand sanitizer 😉 )
Each of our microbiome’s are unique and develop over our lifetime revealing various aspects of our lifestyles. Science has revealed that our microbial mix is so unique from person to person that it is actually a more accurate identifier than our own DNA .
Influences on the micrbiome include:
- our parents health
- how you were born – C-section or vaginal delivery. Babies delivered by C-section miss their first inoculation with healthy bacteria from their mothers vagina.
- whether you were breastfed or formula fed as an infant
- your diet
- exposure to chemicals and toxins
- personal hygiene – you may be surprised that being a bit dirtier is actually better for you!
- past infections, including antibiotic use
- stress levels – stress has a dramatic effect on our microbiome
- whether you live in a rural or urban area
Research on the human microbiome is revealing fascinating insights into why disease among our society continues to increase in the midst of advancing medical technology. Our increasingly sanitized society with increased consumption of processed foods and antibiotic use has shown a direct correlation to decreased microbial diversity.
Hinderances to a healthy microbiome:
- antibiotics – they kill off germs as well as the microbiome, which is your first line of defense against disease.
- chlorinated drinking water
- pesticides – including on food we eat and in products we use such as skin care and home cleaning products.
- industrial agriculture
- high-fat, high-sugar Western diet
I hope this overview gives you points to begin considering. I’ll be back next week with specific recommendations for how to cultivate a healthier microbiome, including what I’ve implemented into my own life!
For further reading, check out these books & blog posts:
- Missing Microbes: How the Overuse of Antibiotics is Fueling Our Modern Plaques by Martin J. Blaser, MD
- The Microbiome Solution: A Radical New Way to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out by Dr. Robynne Chutkan, MD
- Bacteria: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
 Chutkan, M.D., Robynne. The Microbiome Solution: A Radical New Way to Heal Your Body from the Inside Out. New York, NY: Avery, 2015.
 Morgan, Kendall K. Genome. Change Your Microbiome, Change Yourself. Retrieved from http://genomemag.com/change-your-microbiome-change-yourself/#.VsOFSMeofzI