The Role of the Microbiome
Updated: Dec 13, 2020
Our gut hosts over 100 trillion bacteria in it- all the way from the mouth to the butt. This means there is around 10x as many bacteria cells and 100x more bacterial genes as there are human. The collection of bacteria, called the “microbiome”, has 3 main purposes in the body.
The first is structural. The bacteria produce substances needed for our gut cells to grow and develop into mature, functioning cells. They also help keep the cells that line our gut in close proximity and aligned with one another so that no unwanted substances gets through them.
The next is function is metabolic. Bacteria produce a lot of things that our own human cells cannot. Substances like vitamin K, folate, and biotin. They help with the absorption of minerals such as magnesium, iron, and calcium. The microbiome helps breakdown toxins that we are exposed to and eliminate them through our poop. Interestingly, different microbiome profiles can predispose an individual to being overweight or obese. This is probably due to it making us more efficient at absorbing and processing our food.
Finally, the microbiome has a protective function. The immune system is our body’s main way of fending off unwanted invaders. Things like viruses, bad bacteria, fungus, and parasites and fought off by the immune system which is composed of different types of white blood cells and other molecules. An amazing 70-80% of our immune system resides in our gut and for good reason too. The gut is technically “outside” our body as it has first contact with the food we eat. Our gut acts as the “gatekeeper” to everything we ingest and our microbiome helps with our body’s ability to say “that’s a bad guy” or “that’s a good guy”. This is all the more evident when researchers eliminate the microbiome from mice. These “sterile” mice are much more likely to get infections and die as a result.
With these 3 things in mind, we can see how optimizing our gut health and that of the microbiome is a good starting place for most people with a chronic illness.
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