The microbiome is one of the most fascinating health topics for me to write and learn about, in part because it's hard to grasp its vastness and importance.
This intelligent bacterial ecosystem in your gut makes up the majority of your immune system, and your body actually contains 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells! You are, in truth, actually more bacteria than human, a sort of vehicle or host for the microbiome.
The Microbiome Connection
What sounds like science fiction is actually fact! These trillions of microbes and their colonies are the manufacturers and managers of how you look, feel and think. Researchers are quickly learning how much it regulates just about every system of your body.
Conditions such as leaky gut syndrome and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can do a number on your microbiome. As the age-old Hippocratic saying goes, "All disease begins in the gut"; when your microbiome is weakened or damaged, it can "switch on" a number of potential disease processes throughout the body.
It's important to note that you don't have to be experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms to have poor microbiome health. We are just beginning to understand the microbiome, but below are some of the surprising ways an unhealthy microbiome can wreck your health:
1. Autoimmune conditions
The last century has seen a rapid rise of autoimmune diseases. As of now, there are around 100 recognized autoimmune conditions and about 40 other diseases that have an autoimmune component. Because 80% of your immune system resides in your gut, it is no surprise that a damaged microbiome and leaky gut syndrome is a precondition for autoimmunity.
2. Mental health disorders
Your gut and brain are inextricably through the communication lines that are referred to as the gut-brain axis. In the medical literature, your gut is actually referred to as "the second brain." An unhealthy microbiome has been linked to mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
3. Poor immune health
Should be no surprise here, but if you find yourself sick often, you'll want to know your microbiome health. Chronically low immune system health can be largely due to weak a microbiome health; an overgrowth of opportunistic bacteria, yeast or fungus; or a parasite.
4. Heart disease
A possible correlation between the microbiome and cardiovascular disease was recently found. Certain bacteria produce higher levels of TMAO (trimethylamine-N-oxide) which is linked to a higher risk of heart attack and stroke. It still unclear which microorganism produces more TMAO, but researchers are hoping that, in the future, manipulation of microbiome species can help in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
5. Type II diabetes
This chronic degenerative disease recently been linked to microbiome disturbances. One study found that transplanting the microbiome of diabetic mice into healthy mice made them diabetic as well!
6. Skin conditions
Skin problems like acne, psoriasis, eczema and dermatitis all have a microbiome and inflammatory-autoimmune component to them. For many, the missing link to healing their skin issues is healing their microbiome.
7. Weight gain and obesity
An imbalance of bacteria in the microbiome has been shown to cause weight loss resistance and obesity. Studies in mice found that overweight mice had a higher amount of the Firmicutes bacteria, while thin mice had a higher proportion of Bacteroidetes. In the human cases, the beneficial bacteria called Lactobacillus rhamnosus was found to be helpful for weight loss in women.The microbiome factor in weight gain cases is a key component for many to lose weight their body has been holding on to for years.
8. Acid reflux
Millions of people suffer from acid reflux, or the more serious GERD. These problems are correlated with a microbiome dysfunction called SIBO, or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
A fascinating study out of the University of North Carolina suggests that damage and inflammation of the gut severely decreased the variety of bacterial species in the microbiome. This loss of microbiome diversity allowed a pathogenic bacterial overgrowth of E. coli. Eighty percent of mice with E. coli infection developed colorectal cancer.
10. Constipation or diarrhea
This is obvious, but digestive problems are so common, it's important to mention. One study found that there was significantly lower amounts of the bacteria Prevotella and increased levels of Firmicutes in constipated patients. Interestingly, the conventional probiotics that people take, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria, were not decreased in the microbiomes of the constipated patients.
11. Asthma and chronic sinus infections
Dysbiosis of microbiome bacteria and an overgrowth of Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum, was shown to be a frequent underlying culprit for asthma and chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS).
Welcome To The Age Of The Microbiome
Some have predicted that this year will be the year of the microbiome. Over the coming years, as we continue to learn more about the microbiome, I suspect this might become the decade of the microbiome.