I’ve written a lot about the human microbiome on this blog. As those who’ve paid attention to this topic know, the number of microbial cells we carry around with us every day vastly outnumber our human cells, and if we look at genetic diversity, we’re actually 99% microbe. With these facts in mind, it doesn’t really come as a surprise that the microbial communities that occupy our body have a profound impact on our health and well-being. The microbiome helps regulate our metabolism, immune system, and brain function, among other things, and microbial imbalances have been linked to everything from Alzheimer’s disease to cystic fibrosis to obesity (1, 2).
Studies looking into the microbiome of hunter-gatherers and non-westernized people who lead a traditional lifestyle have revealed that these people carry a microbiota characterized by a much greater biodiversity than the microbiota of westerners. Overuse of antibiotics, consumption of highly processed diets, c-sections, bottle-feeding, a disconnection from the natural environment, and many other factors associated with “modern lifestyles” cause an upset in the balance between man and microbes, and today, it’s unlikely that few (if any) people carry what could be considered a truly healthy microbiome.
Just like many animal and plants species that were once a part of the global ecosystem on Earth have gone extinct due to human activities, the smaller, invisible ecosystems that live “in” and on our bodies have also taken a massive hit recently, and it’s being increasingly recognized among scientists that we’ve lost some of the microbial friends that accompanied the human species throughout our evolution.
Not only that, but most of us are not appropriately caring for the microbes that are already there. While it was long believed that eating an unhealthy diet is primarily bad for us because it has an unfavourable impact on how the human genes we inherited from mum and dad are expressed, research over the last decade has made it clear that the impact on our microbiome is in some ways even more severe.
The typical Western diet, which is high in sugar, refined starches, and refined fats and low in fermentable fiber, both starves the microbiota in the large intestine and promotes the growth of pro-inflammatory organisms in the upper part of the GI tract (3, 4). A double hit that triggers systemic low-grade inflammation and disease.
To combat many of the diseases that run rampant in modern societies we not only have to take good care of our human self, but also our microbial self; something that can be done by rewilding our bodies and following a diet and lifestyle that promote a healthy balance of microorganisms.
Okay, I’m not going to delve further into a lengthy discussion on the importance of microbes in human health or what we can do to try to repair an unbalanced ecosystem, as this is something I have done at length in the past. Rather, I wanted to share this video from ted.ed.com, which I think provides a good explanation of what the microbiome is and some of the functions our microbial inhabitants perform. Take the time to share it with your friends by using the sharing buttons below the article to help increase awareness about this very important topic.