Importance Of The Human Microbiome Project
The human microbiome makes up about one to two percent of the body mass of an adult. It has been likened to a body organ. But, unlike say a heart or a liver, the importance and function of the microbiome is just starting to be appreciated.
It has long been known that bacteria are involved in certain body processes, such as digesting food and producing vitamins, but the microbiome appears have a much broader impact on our health than was previously realized. The community of microbes in an individual may influence the susceptibility to certain infectious diseases, as well as contribute to disorders such as obesity and diabetes. It may also contribute to the development of some chronic illnesses of the gastrointestinal system such as Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Some collections of microbes can determine how one responds to a particular drug treatment. The microbiome of the mother may even affect the health of her children.
A more complete understanding of the diversity of microbes that make up the human microbiome could lead to novel therapies. For example, it may be possible to treat a bacterial infection caused by a “bad” bacterial species by promoting the growth of the “good” bacteria. Microbiome transplants are already being used to combat certain illnesses, such as Clostridium difficile infections, to establish more healthful bacterial populations.
Weight Gain And Obesity
Gut dysbiosis has also been associated with weight gain and obesity through a range of mechanisms, including .
- Altered energy regulation
- Altered gut hormone regulation
- Promotion of inflammation due to pathogens entering the bloodstream via the intestinal wall .
Interestingly, overweight and obese people have been found to have lower gut microbial diversity compared with lean people .
One study compared 154 identical twins, one of whom was obese and the other whom was lean. The twins had significant differences in their gut microbiome composition, including the classes of microbes present and bacterial diversity. This suggests that differences in the microbiome are not genetic .
A similar study analyzed four pairs of twins. The gut microbiome from each twin was then introduced into mice. Despite the mice eating the same low-fat, high-fiber diet, the mouse hosting the obese twins microbiome gained more fat mass and presented more obesity-associated metabolic markers than the mouse hosting the non-obese twins microbiome .
Meanwhile, a long-term human study of 1,632 women found that low gut microbial diversity, especially in those with low dietary fiber intake, was associated with a higher degree of weight gain compared with those women who had a high microbiome diversity and fiber intake .
What Does The Microbiome Do
The microbiome plays a key role is some very important bodily functions. It assists with immune system regulation, mental health and digestion. Though we are only at the beginning of understanding what other roles the microbiome plays in the body, scientists are clear that it does affect the following systems. ;
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How To Help Your Microbiome
Simple daily habits make a difference. What you eat can change the microbes that live in your body. High-fiber foods feed the helpful bacteria in your colon. They also discourage the growth of some harmful ones. Probiotic foods, such as yogurt and pickled vegetables, also deliver helpful bacteria to your gut. Getting enough sleep, easing stress, and exercising may also improve your microbiome.
Whos There Surveying The Microbiome In Humans
The National Institutes of Healths Common Fund established the decade-long Human Microbiome Project in 2007. The HMP project was designed to be a community resource to galvanize research, in what was then a young field. The main aim was to create a toolbox with datasets and analytical and clinical protocols for the larger research community to be able to study the microbiome in specific diseases and populations.
The first phase of the project catalogued a reference dataset of the types of microbes that are associated with five specific body regions: skin, oral cavity, airways, gastrointestinal and urogenital tract, using samples collected from 300 healthy adult men and women.
They used DNA sequencing technologies adapted from those first developed during the Human Genome Project to analyze these microbial communities. Microbiome-associated diseases are usually not infectious, but have a proportion that can be explained by the human microbiome.
Researchers used the reference dataset as a roadmap to identify the kinds of microbial community differences that might be associated with such non-infectious diseases or conditions.
There is an important caveat here.
Researchers dont yet know if a change in a microbial community leads to a disease or if a microbial community changes in response to the development of a disease.
The researchers would need to, in effect, make a video of the microbiome and the human body.
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The Gut Microbiome May Affect Your Weight
There are thousands of different types of bacteria in your intestines, most of which benefit your health.
However, having too many unhealthy microbes can lead to disease.
An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes is sometimes called gut dysbiosis, and it may contribute to weight gain .
Several well-known studies have shown that the gut microbiome differed completely between identical twins, one of whom was obese and one of whom was healthy. This demonstrated that differences in the microbiome were not genetic .
Interestingly, in one study, when the microbiome from the obese twin was transferred to mice, they gained more weight those that had received the microbiome of the lean twin, despite both groups eating the same diet .
These studies show that microbiome dysbiosis may play a role in weight gain.
Fortunately, probiotics are good for a healthy microbiome and can help with weight loss. Nevertheless, studies suggest that the effects of probiotics on weight loss are probably quite small, with people losing less than 2.2 pounds .
Gut dysbiosis may lead to weight gain, but probiotics can potentially restore gut health and help reduce weight.
Preterm Birth And Neurodevelopmental Trajectories
Despite technology-enabled increases in the survival of extremely preterm infants in the United States, cognitive outcomes in these individuals are often severely impaired . Preterm babies born into low-SES families and/or minoritized populations often have poorer cognitive outcomes . While a number of factors, including access to early life education , likely contribute to these patterns, variation in inflammatory markers in infant serum is a key area of interest .
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Evidence Linking Gm To Health Inequities
To date, most studies of the human GM have a narrow biomedical focus or describe broad population-level trends in response to environmental variation. Few studies have assessed GM variation in relation to structural inequities, and fewer have attempted to link socially attributed variation in the GM to host health . Nevertheless, the existing literature provides growing evidence that the social and environmental gradients that contribute to health inequities also predict GM traits . For example, across globally diverse populations, measures of SES have been associated with distinct GM traits in both adults and children . Similarly, the GM consistently varies with race and/or ethnicity/ancestry in adults and children .
Overview of published literature linking the microbiome to pathways of health inequities
Your Microbiome And Disease Prevention
According to a study published in The Guardian, microbes can actually help prevent specific disease states. For example, researchers got rid of four different strains of bacteria in lab rats and were able to trigger changes in the animals metabolism that led to obesity.
Another study, this one published in PLOS , shows that autistic children have different microbiomes than children who are not autistic. Autistic children have less beneficial bacteria in their gut, the ones that influence our immune responses. These responses start in the gut and travel to the brain, sending signals to the rest of the body.
The research suggests that your microbiome can actually be a preeminent factor in determining your overall longevity. The findings also suggest that if we reevaluate what our idea of a healthy diet is, it could have far-reaching effects on our health. Improving our gut health could have a major impact on our longevity, our body makeup, and our brain function.
A healthy diet, then, is not just one that gives us the right nutrients. The food you eat should also help support a healthy microbiome.
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Behavioural Changes Are Likely To Be A By
A recent paper titled ‘Why does the microbiome affect behaviour?’ examined the theory that the gut microbiome has evolved to manipulate its human host for its own success, much like parasites, by making the host more sociable in order to be transmitted.
The paper argued, however, that this theory is unlikely, and behavioural changes are likely to be a by-product of processes that help microorganisms grow and compete in the gut, such as fermentation.
“The gut microbiome is so diverse that, even if there was a type of bacteria producing active chemicals to manipulate our behaviour, this bacteria would quickly be outcompeted by other bacteria not investing any extra energy to produce the compound,” says Johnson, one of the paper’s authors.
Science has not yet defined what a healthy microbiome looks like, and a conclusion appears some way off yet. But there is growing consensus that environmental factors, such as diet and antibiotics, affect our microbiome more than our genes, and that a more diverse microbiome is better for us.
“While we can change our microbiome with our diet, they seem to have a set point to which they often return after a temporary disturbance,” says Johnson. “But one thing we can do is eat more fibre, to increase the diversity of the gut, which is frequently associated with health.”
While there have been many advancements within microbiome research in recent years, there also remain some challenges.
Other Ways To Change Gut Bacteria
There may be other ways to change your gut microbiome and treat things tied to its balance. For example, fecal transplants change your gut bacteria to treat things like;C. diff;and ulcerative colitis. A device called deep transcranial magnetic stimulation uses a coil put on the scalp to stimulate the brain and change gut bacteria. It shows promise for treating obesity.
9) Jose Luis Pelaez Inc. / Thinkstock
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12) ; olgakr / Thinkstock, skyjo / Thinkstock, MartinFredy / Thinkstock
UConn Today: How Bactera Keep Us Healthy.
Integrative Medicine: A Clinicians Journal: Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease.
ACP Microbe Institute: Microbe Magic, The Good Bacteria.
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You.
Crohns & Colitis Foundation: Gut Microbiome Points To Cures and Treatment for IBD.
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: Gut Bacteria and IBS.
Cleveland Clinic: How Gut Bacteria May Help Curb Your Heart Disease.
University of California, Los Angeles: Changing Gut Bacteria Through Diet Affects Brain Function, UCLA Study Shows.
Journal of Neuroscience: Gut Microbes and the Brain: Paradigm Shift in Neuroscience.
Endocrine Society: Magnetic Brain Stimulation Causes Weight Loss By Making Gut Bacteria Healthier.
Mayo Clinic: What Are Probiotics?
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The Role Of Probiotics
If microbiota are so vital to our health, how can we ensure that we have enough or the right types? You may be familiar with probiotics or perhaps already using them. These are either foods that naturally contain microbiota, or supplement pills that contain live active bacteriaadvertised to promote digestive health. Probiotic supplement sales exceeded $35 billion in 2015, with a projected increase to $65 billion by 2024. Whether you believe the health claims or think they are yet another snake oil scam, they make up a multi-billion dollar industry that is evolving in tandem with quickly emerging research.
Because probiotics fall under the category of supplements and not food, they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration in the U.S. This means that unless the supplement company voluntarily discloses information on quality, such as carrying the USP seal that provides standards for quality and purity, a probiotic pill may not contain the amounts listed on the label or even guarantee that the bacteria are alive and active at the time of use.
Preterm Birth And Missing Bacteria In The Vaginal Microbiome
Preterm birth, a condition where women give birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, is the second most common cause of neonatal death worldwide. Preterm birth instances also vary significantly by population. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2016, the rate of premature birth among African-American women was 14% compared to white women at 9% — a nearly 50% difference.
Because a pregnant womans healthy vaginal microbiome is closely associated with the healthy birth of an infant, the iHMPs first model system, the Vaginal Microbiome Consortium Multi-Omic Microbiome Study: Pregnancy Initiative , sought to characterize the vaginal microbiomes of pregnant women to gauge their risk for preterm birth, with a particular focus on African-American women.
The project enrolled and followed a group of pregnant women that included a total of 45 preterm births and 90 full-term births. By looking at microbiome data, as well as other features, including gene expression, protein and metabolite levels from both the microbiome and the subjects, the researchers came upon something surprising.
However, by the end of the first trimester, the vaginal microbiomes of these women tended to return to a normal, Lactobacillus-dominated community. The researchers now want to know why this microbe effectively disappears from the mothers vagina during the earliest days of her pregnancy.
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What Is A Microbiome And How Does It Affect Gut Health
How Severe Is Your Lack Of Energy?TAKE THE QUIZ
What is a microbiome? Living in your intestinal tract is your gut microbiome. Its made up of trillions of microorganisms that are mainly bacteria.
These bacteria are extremely important to your health and wellbeing. They live in your digestive system, where their role is to help digest the food you eat. They also help with absorbing all the nutrients from your food, too.;
The microbiome is also involved with several other processes beyond just your digestive system. These include your metabolism, body weight, immune regulation, brain functions, and mood.;
Several factors play a part in the type and amount of bacteria each person has. Its interesting to note that each person has their own unique bacteria.
How To Improve The Gut Microbiome
;Fortunately, you can improve the composition and diversity of your gut microbiome by making changes in your diet.
Consuming a varied and diverse diet is important for maintaining a healthy gut microbiome .
A study comparing the diets and gut microbiomes in people from Europe and rural regions of Africawhere a more diverse and predominantly plant-based diet is consumedfound a significant difference in the gut microbiome. People from Africa had greater diversity of microbes and less harmful bacteria in their guts compared with Europeans .
In particular, you want to focus on consuming high-fiber foods.
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The Human Gut Microbiome And Health Inequities
A New Area Of Medicine
Scientists are looking for ways to improve the microbiome to help people avoid certain diseases or respond to treatments better. But some medicines can harm it.Â; One round of antibiotics can change your microbiome for up to a year. And a study of more than 1,000 drugs showed that 1 in 4 affected bacteria growth. These included blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes medications.
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Types Of Bacteria And Other Microbes
Each microbiome has a unique makeup and the combination of microbes in the body can hugely impact someones health. Certain bacteria in the body can make the difference between getting sick or not. Though the exact relationship between certain bacteria and illnesses not yet fully understood, there remains an appreciation for their roles in some human illness.
The More Diverse Our Gut Bacteria The Better
While the debate over whether infants are born with gut bacteria continues, it seems scientists are in agreement about one thing: from birth until old age, our gut bacteria are constantly evolving.
As mentioned previously, two thirds of the gut microbiome is unique to each person, and what makes this unique is the food we eat, the air we breathe and other environmental factors. Some studies have even suggested the makeup of the gut microbiome is influenced by genes.
But how does this unique gut bacteria affect our health? This is a question that researchers have become increasingly interested in answering.
Past research has suggested that a broader diversity of bacteria in gut is better for human health. A recent study reported by MNT, for example, found that infants with less diverse gut bacteria at the age of 3 months were more likely to be sensitized to specific foods including egg, milk and peanut by the age of 1 year, indicating that lack of gut bacteria diversity in early life may be a driver for food allergies.
But the implications of a low-diversity gut microbiome do not stop there. You may be surprised to learn how lack of or overpopulation of specific bacteria may impact your health.
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