What is the human microbiome and why should we care? Gut health has become a very popular topic in health today, as we now understand how the gut is very much connected to the rest of our body, and even our brain. However, many are not aware of exactly what the microbiome is and how significant it is to our overall health.
Metagenomic studies performed years ago, discovered that we are technically made up of more bacteria material than human cells. As gross as it may seem, knowing that we are like walking blobs of bacteria, this knowledge gives us great insight into how we can approach our health when it comes to our diet, environment, and more. Microbes are microscopic organisms, including bacteria, parasites, viral material, and archaea species. The term, microbiome, refers to the various communities of microbes within the body that line all mucosa membranes (not just the gut, but the nasal passageways, mouth, vaginal canal, etc) and on our skin. Studies have shown that there are distinct profiles to each area in the body that can distinguish a healthy versus unhealthy region of the body and lead to dysbiosis (imbalance of good versus bad microbes in a specific region of the body).
Most of us think of microbes as solely pathogenic, or disease-causing. However, healthy microbes are designed to carry out various tasks in our body for immune support, breaking down and converting nutrients, defense against, and even aiding in the synthesis of hormones and neurotransmitters. In fact, most of the body's serotonin is synthesized in the gut! Thanks to healthy gut bugs, you are able to move digested material efficiently through the intestines and eliminate toxins and xenoestrogens efficiently. You can thank your healthy microbes in the nasal passages for defending you against harmful fungal and bacteria species leading to sinus infections.
Microbiome studies allow us to appreciate organic, fiber-rich whole foods as well, as they provide the nutrients needed in order to allow diverse sets of healthy microbes to proliferate. On the other hand, understanding the microbiome gives us great insight as to why a diet rich in sugar and excess starchy carbohydrates often leads to increased infections, as pathogenic and disease-causing microbes feed on these sugars, outnumber our healthy gut bugs and cause us to crave even more bad foods to stay alive.. Such greedy and brain-hi-jacking microbes! Having this knowledge allows us to make better decisions when it comes to our nutrition, empowering us to prevent infections.
When it comes to microbiome health, most of us are not aware that our breath and oxygen levels contribute heavily to the profile of microbes in our sinuses, gut and more. If we have obstructed airways due to the structure/size of our mouth, blocked or small sinus passages, or even have a tongue tie contributing to the blocking of our airway when we sleep, we will rob our bodies of adequate oxygen and sleep very restlessly. When we lose oxygen in our sleep, our body actually goes into fight or flight mode to wake up our brain in order to remind us to breathe! When this occurs, whether we are aware of it or not, we have increased stress hormone release and decreased REM sleep cycles. Studies have shown that after just one night of poor sleep, we undergo a microbiome shift, meaning the healthy vs. unhealthy microbiome levels may shift making us more susceptible to digestive issues and decreased immunity against infections.
Another important factor to recognize in relation to the microbiome is the dental and oral cavity. More studies have shown that the microbiome profile in the mouth is very closely connected to the body. Gum and dental infections have the capacity to impact cardiovascular health, metabolic function, gut function, hormone health, brain health, inflammation, and immune function. If our immune system is busy fighting off chronic infections hidden in former root canaled teeth, gum disease, or dealing with metal toxicity from fillings, we have the capacity to develop inflammation issues throughout the body. It may be worth scheduling a visit with a holistic or biologic dentist who is aware of the connection between the oral microbiome and the health of the whole body, as well as structural issues related to obstructed airways. It is also recommended to avoid using toothpaste and mouthwashes that are filled with harsh ingredients and alcohol, as these wipe out the healthy flora. This is counterproductive when it comes to preventing cavities and infection, as the healthy microbes in the mouth are needed to protect the teeth and overall oral wellness. Avoid using fluoride toothpastes as well, as the fluoride mixing with the chlorine in the water when rinsing may be toxic to the thyroid. Try using natural, fluoride-free toothpaste and an herbal tonic mouthwash for oral health instead!
In relation to the health of the gut microbiome, it is important to mention the overprescription of antibiotics, especially in the US. We are so grateful for antibiotics, as they resolve chronic, acute, and even deadly bacteria infections in the body. However, when there is an overabundant and overprescription of antibiotics, as well as when antibiotics are taken incorrectly, we begin to see an increased risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria strains. Many today are unaware that viruses, such as those that cause the flu and common cold, are not treated by antibiotics as the infection is of a different origin. Viral infections have the propensity to lead to bacterial infections at times, such as a chronic sinus infection experienced after a virus, as the bacteria cells become opportunists during a time of low immunity and symptomatology. However it is useful to know that antibiotics are not necessary for the treatment of all viral infections, but taking antibiotics may actually wipe out your healthy gut flora, making you more susceptible to infections. It is important to discuss this with your provider before starting/stopping any medication.
If you do have to take a course of antibiotics however, there are a few steps you can take to support the health of your gut microbiome. When we take antibiotics,in order to compensate for the loss of microbes and rapidly allow bacteria to proliferate, electron receptors in the gut will increase. This means that as bacteria are increasing, we can focus on lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, hydration, rest, and exercise when we are able, in order to allow the healthy microbes to outcompete pathogenic bacteria and yeast strains. Many people often develop pathogenic fungal/yeast overgrowth post infection, as yeast will often take over as a protective defense. In order to avoid overabundance of yeast, it is recommended to limit sugar and excess starch, processed foods, and sugary drinks. It is also important that we reinoculate the gut with probiotic and prebiotic rich foods, such as fermented foods, fiber-rich foods, colorful vegetables of different varieties, and a high quality probiotic supplement if needed.
The Human Microbiome is so complex, and unique to each individual. While we once only focused on a healthy gut, it is so important that we protect the microbial balance in other regions of the body as well. Each system in the body is so interconnected with other systems. Taking care of ourselves means we restore and maintain balance to each system with a holistic perspective in order to avoid the possibility of creating negative downstream effects!
For more information on living a lifestyle that supports a healthy Microbiome, contact TCLM to meet with a medical provider and team of health experts!