Meet Your Gut Bacteria
It’s rather uncanny the way we humans are so obsessed with cleanliness. Yet little do a lot of us know, no matter how much we scrub, sanitise and lather ourselves with perfumed soaps and oils, we are outrageously outnumbered by our ecosystem from within. This ecosystem is what we refer to as your microbiome.
The standard human is comprised of about 10 trillion cells, but exactly how much bacteria do you think you carry at one time? This is where it gets really interesting. Along with these cells, we harbour about 100 trillion microbes on our skin, hair, mouths and within our intestines and they can control everything from your weight and your smell, through to your mood and your thoughts. Harnessing their power could be the next great tool in medicine.
As we are developing, humans start out in a clean and sterile environment, nestled safely inside our mother’s womb. Through the process of natural birth, a lot of us get our first dose of bacteria as we pass through the vaginal cavity and arrive into the world. From there, we are fed good bacteria through our mother’s breastmilk, experiencing skin-to-skin contact, and so it continues.
While we grow and develop, frolicking like kids do in the dirt, and putting who knows what into our mouths as infants, we start to host the bacteria in our gut, which eventually grows to over 1000 species. Early on in life these bacteria start combating bad bacteria, which helps to educate our immune system on the difference between good and bad. This process can get thrown out of whack when we interfere with the system. For example, when children are given too many antibiotics which don’t only kill off the bad bacteria, but they pick off the good bacteria as well. This can lead to problems like asthma as intestinal diseases later in life.
The microbial are not only there to help protect us, but they also provide important vitamins needed by our bodies. Vitamins like B3, B6, B12 and vitamin K, are all produced by our little friends.
You will find the microbiome is not just all about our guts either. It’s an interesting notion to swallow, but even after we scrub our teeth clean with our favoured flavour of the month, hundreds of species still thrive inside our mouth. They stay put to fight off things like gum disease and tooth decay. What’s even more interesting, no person on earth has exactly the same mouth bacteria. It’s like offering your own little cocktail with each person that you kiss.
Bacteria is found in your lungs too. These bacteria help ward off asthma and lung infections. Your ears, arteries and nose also all play host to microbiome.
There are about one trillion bacteria doing summersaults in our hair follicles and epidermis. Some of these practice ninja kicks and get all defensive, making our skin slightly acidic or manufacturing chemicals that will help prevent fungi from setting in. There are some skin bacteria who favour being housed in warm and dark places on your body. They will feast on skin oils and sweat, creating chemicals that offer our individual sweet (or not-so-sweet) scent.
Through studies with lab mice, scientists have uncovered that certain friendly gut bacteria may be responsible for calmer mood and better cognition. This is through a transmission of signals to the brain via a connective nerve known as the vagus. It is because of this gut/brain relationship, that it is important to maintain a healthy gut microbiome for healthy thought process.
Think about this. As humans, we harbour about 20,000 human genes and a whopping three million (or thereabouts) genes that are bacterial. This actually breaks us down to being only 1% human and 99% bacterial. So, when your mother called you a little germ growing up, she was really onto something.
Some of the bacteria we host are bad, but the majority are generally just happy enjoying the ride and working away to help keep us healthy and strong. Keeping your microbiome happy in return is a good way to maintain your lifestyle. Enjoying plenty of probiotic and enzyme-rich foods, is always a great place to start.