What is a Healthy Microbiome?
Only one out of ten cells in our bodies are actually human. The rest are comprised of bacteria known as the human microbiome.
This human microbiome not only consists of all the microbes that live in and on our bodies but it also consists of all the microbial genes and their metabolic contributions to supporting human health. There are over 10,000 species of bacteria which have more than 8 million genes; that’s greater than 300 times the number of human genes. Humans have evolved with these microbes and while we associate bacteria with sickness, the bacteria that make up the microbiome are very important in human health. These microbes provide an array of services including, helping our immune systems recognize and fight off harmful bacteria by producing anti-inflammatory substances as well as extracting vitamins and nutrients critical for survival. We know that disturbances in this microbiome can exacerbate or cause disease.
New advances in genetic analytic technology has led to an explosion of information regarding this relatively uncharted area. Given the importance of the microbiome in human health, a great deal of energy is being put toward establishing what is a normal microbiome. Scientists sampled 300 individuals from 15 body sites in males and 18 body sites in females at 2 to 3 different time points. They found that each area of the body houses between 2 to 7 unique “community types” of microbes defined on the basis of a complex network of co-occurring bacteria.
Unexpectedly, the researchers found that the community type found in the mouth, predicted the community within the GI tract. The gut community was also affected by whether or not an individual had been breast fed. Whether a women had a baccalaureate degree was strongly associated with the community type found in the vagina. Differences in communities were also seen between the genders. The most stable communities where the gut and the vagina. Researchers concluded that we have some differences in our microbiomes and these differences are not necessarily bad. Our microbiome’s are the end result of our interaction with our genes, environment, and diets. As we learn more about the microbiome, the hope is to use this new knowledge to obtain both a personalized health risk assessment and personalized medical treatment.
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