What you should know about your body’s microbiome
TEXT GRACE TOBY Here’s how the microbiome—the colony of micro-organisms that lives on and in our bodies—might hold the key to a healthy immune system, mood and weight, and our overall well-being.
Meet your microbiome
If it seems like the word microbiome just recently appeared on your radar, you’re not alone. It was only in 2008 that the National Institutes of Health Common Fund’s Human Microbiome Project was established to understand the microbiome and how it impacts the way our bodies function.
“We knew that the microbiome was there, but we thought of it only as external and not really in our body. As research expands in this area, we’re discovering how much influence it has on wellbeing,” says Kathy Mccoy, the director of the Western Canadian Microbiome Centre and a professor at the Cumming School of Medicine in Calgary. “One thing we know for sure is that good bacteria benefit our health.”
Happy gut = healthy life
Our gut houses the bulk of our bugs and can carry more than 1,000 different species. The hot spot is the large intestine, which is the most highly colonized by bacteria. “Bacteria help us digest foods we otherwise couldn’t, such as complex carbohydrates,” says Mccoy. “They increase our metabolic capacity, produce vitamins we can’t make ourselves and break down food so our bodies get needed nutrients.”
A healthy gut can determine which nutrients are absorbed and which toxins are blocked. “The state of our gut microbiota has drastically changed as we’ve transformed our diets, specifically due to a loss of fibre intake,” says Mccoy. “The consumption of more processed foods has negatively influenced the makeup of our microbiota.”
The key to a wellfunctioning microbiome is a diversity of good bacteria. The latest research shows how our microbiome can affect our immunity, weight and mood, and reveals how you can nurture and strengthen your gut to improve your health.
Boost your immunity
“Unlike genes or genetic disorders that are hardwired, we can manipulate our microbiome to some degree,” says Mccoy. By nurturing our gut to create a healthy microbiota, we equip it with better ammunition to fight potential invaders, such as bad bacteria (salmonella, for example), making it a strong ally for our immune system.
“Over the past 50 years, in developing countries, the prevalence of autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes and celiac disease, has skyrocketed—and some, like Type 1 diabetes, are occurring at a younger age. At the same time, there’s a strong belief that the diversity in our microbiota has decreased,” she says. By not supporting and nurturing our microbiome, we leave it less able to protect itself and more vulnerable to invaders. “The immune system in your gut needs to be equipped like an army, alert to recognize potential danger and armed to fight disease-causing microbes and pathogens,” says Mccoy.