The human microbiome (mai·kruh·BAI·owm) is the term to describe the group of all the tiny organisms that dwell in and on the human body. Each individual has about 100 trillion microorganism cells cohabiting his or her body. In fact, these non-human cells outnumber human cells, as each person is made up of about 30 trillion cells. Research has discovered a lot about the microbiome over the past few decades, especially those inhabiting the digestive tract. Scientists have come to see the important role that these tiny organisms play in digestion, the immune system, and absorption of nutrients. A poorly balanced gut microbiome has been linked to several diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, and even depression and anxiety.
Each person has a unique microbiome and there is no such thing as “the perfect microbiome;” that is to say there is no ideal number of each bacteria, viruses, etc. Some bacteria have been found to cause problems/disease and others cause problems only when they outweigh the population of other bacteria. The goal isn’t to have a specific microbiome composition; instead, the goal is to assess and take steps to improve the balance, treat pathogens and promote diversity.
Here are a few things you can do to improve the health of YOUR microbiome:
Consume probiotics in food and/or a quality supplement. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, yogurt, miso, tempeh that contain probiotics and can improve your microbiome balance. Probiotics do not stay in one’s body - they are “tourists,” and just pass through, so eating them daily is the only way to get consistent results.
Eating a diet that feeds the good types of bacteria can make a more lasting impact. This means eating a diet rich in soluble fiber. The fiber feeds the healthy bacteria in the large intestine and improves one’s microbiome balance. Eating the standard American diet (one high in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and poor quality fat) can negatively impact the microbiome in just one day, so consistency is important.
Address the things that caused an imbalance in the first place! Limit exposure to infections, avoid unnecessary antibiotics, and lower stress levels.
Depending on your microbiome make-up, there may be specific diets or supplements that can help restore balance.