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microbiome 101

May 2024


The Microbiome

  • Microbiome 101
  • The Microbiome & The Immune System
  • Microbiome, Digestion & Metabolism
  • The Microbiome & Your Mood

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Microbiome 101

Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are all around and inside us. Every time you walk down the street, you walk through a cloud of them. When you inhale, you breathe them in, and whenever you touch something, be it the shopping cart in the supermarket or the soil in your garden, you “collect” them in your hands. 

Some of the food we eat, such as cheese, yogurt, and pickles, is prepared with the help of bacteria. Yet, we divide the microbes into “good” and “bad.”

For a long time, I was fascinated by bacteria—not just by what they can do for me, a tendency we humans often have when we observe or think of nature, but also by who they are and where they come from. 

what is microbiome?

What is the microbiome

    The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live within or on your body. Some of these critters call your body “home” for a short period, while others are your companions for a lifetime. 

    Some fun facts about the microbiome:

    You have one hundred microbial cells for every human cell in your body, so your microbiome outnumbers you 100:1. You are more microbes than humans. 

    The microbiome has 2-20 million genes compared to the 20 thousand genes in the human genome. 

    While 99% of your DNA is identical to the DNA of the stranger who passes you on the street, or for that matter to any other person on the planet, the DNA of the various microbiomes in your body is only 0.5% similar to that of other people, even your closest relatives. If you think your DNA makes who you are as an individual, think twice. Rather, the DNA of your microbiome makes your unique individuality. 

    One of the biggest projects of the last two decades was the human genome project. The idea is that if we can “read” the human genome, we will be able to develop a type of individual medicine that addresses disease specifically to the sick person. But if you consider that 99% of our genome isn’t unique to us, but our microbiome genome is mostly what makes us unique, doesn’t it make sense to base individual medicine on the genome of the microbiome?

    Your microbiome weighs about 3 pounds, the average weight of a human brain. Some consider the microbiome as an organ of the body. 

    Where does your microbiome come from?

    If you were born in a natural vaginal birth, you “collected” the first culture of the biome in the birth canal as a gift from your mother. During the first 2-3 years of life, there is a giant developmental leap in the numbers and variety of microbiomes, with different sights in the body developing distinctive colonies. 

    My teacher, Thomas Easley, likes to tell a story about this exotic, mysterious place that is now extinct in most of America called the backyard. In the backyard, children could crawl and play in the dirt, “picking up” some new strains of microbes and increasing the resilience of their immune system. 

    The microbiome is much more stable in adults, changing only in response to medicine (antibiotics) and lifestyle.

    In a sense, our body is like the Earth; different continents differ in weather, vegetation, and the animals that live there. In the body, the oral microbiome is different from the gut microbiome, the lungs microbiome, the skin microbiome, and the vaginal microbiome. 

    The differences in DNA between the different microbial species in your body make each sight unique, which means that a few feet makes a huge difference in ecology within the human body. These regions of the body are unique ecosystems with distinctive temperatures and pH. 

    Your microbiome changes with age, diet, and physical activity. We now know that it’s not so much the variety of organisms in your body as how these different strains work together to create a balanced ecosystem.

    Your microbiome influences many of your body’s functions. It changes the chemicals on your skin, affecting how much mosquitos find you attractive. Think your friends are attracted to you because of your charming personality? The people who will want to become your friends or partners do so because your microbiome flirts with them. These critters play an essential role in digestion, metabolism, immunity, and mood.

    I am interested in learning more about my body and its connection to nature by understanding my relationship with the critters that live on and in me. 

    In the past, when people said to me, “You are part of nature,” I looked for this connection and was sure something was wrong with me for not being able to grasp it.

    The idea that trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi live in and on my body is mind-blowing. But what is more interesting is that our body’s immune system doesn’t attack them, which makes me think that the way we perceive the immune system is simplistic at best.

    It’s a lot!
    But that is why I am here.
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    Disclaimer: This document is for educational and informational purposes only and solely as a self-help tool for your own use. I am not providing medical, psychological, or nutrition therapy advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your own medical practitioner. Always seek the advice of your own medical practitioner and/or mental health provider about your specific health situation. You can view my full disclaimer here.
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