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Our brain, gut, immune, and hormonal systems are intricately interconnected—and recent research has brought many fascinating studies about how crucial our microflora is to our bodies. These microorganisms are now understood to be crucial to genetic expression, body weight, mental health, memory, and risk of diseases as varied as Crohn’s, IBD, obesity, to diabetes and cancer.
The human body functions largely due to the presence of microorganisms including bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It is estimated that approximately 90% of the cells in and on the human body are those of microorganisms, and only 10% are actually human cells. Though there are microorganisms living on virtually every surface of the body, there are a few areas of interest that are generally referred to when one speaks of the microbiome. These are:
There is still much ongoing research into the human microbiome; the full effect of the microbiome constitution on human health is not yet known.
A healthy microbiome has a diverse population of microorganisms with no one population outgrowing the others. There are many factors that can cause disruptions to a healthy microbiome. These include:
Researchers have already identified many possible functions of the microbiome. The functions of the microbiome can vary from location to location, though it is important to note that the microorganismal populations in these areas can and do interact with each other.
The known functions of the microbiome according to location are as follows:
The building of a microbiome begins at birth. Fetuses are sterile in the womb, meaning they do not house any microorganism populations. As they pass through the birth canal, they are introduced to organisms from their mother’s vaginal microbiome and start to build their own microbiome. Babies that are birthed via cesarean section begin building their microbiome with skin microorganisms. Even the environment into which the baby is born (i.e. hospital, home) has an effect on the formation of its microbiome. It has been suggested that babies born vaginally have a more robust immune system even into adulthood. The full effects of the differences between home and hospital, skin and vaginal microbiomes are not yet known.
The microbiome experiences its most rapid growth and expansion during infancy and childhood. The environment in which the child is raised as well as the food they are fed will affect the composition of the microbiome.
There are many different symptoms that could mean an imbalance in the microbiome. Because most of the symptoms of an unbalanced microbiome could also be signs of other potentially serious conditions, it is important that you contact your doctor to determine the cause of your symptoms.
The following could be signs of an unbalanced microbiome:
The following tips can help you build and maintain a healthy microbiome:
There is a huge variety of probiotic supplements available, each claiming to do something different than the next. This can make selecting the right probiotic for you a difficult task. The following tips can help you best choose the most effective probiotic:
You may want to ask your doctor the following questions:
For more information on the microbiome, visit:
For more information on the gut microbiome, visit:
For more information on the oral microbiome, visit: American Society for Microbiology – Journal of Bacteriology
For more information on the skin microbiome, visit: US National Library of Medicine – The Skin Microbiome
For more information about the vaginal microbiome, visit: The Vaginal Microbiome Consortium
For more information on the microbiome and disease, visit: University of Utah – Genetic Science Learning Center – The Microbiome and Disease
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