(DGIwire) — The National Microbiome Initiative was started by the U.S. Government this year with a budget of five-hundred million dollars. Microbiomes are not a common dinner table subject but perhaps that will soon be changing.
According to Wikipedia, microbiota, microbiome and microbe are largely synonymous and are used to describe “the ecological community of commensal, symbiotic and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space.” Say what?
Our bodies contain over two pounds of various kinds of bacteria that help to digest and metabolize food, produce vitamins and protect us from infections. We would not survive without them. These bacteria or microbes actually outnumber our cells by a factor of ten and their total DNA is estimated to be 160 times the number of human genes.
All this is common knowledge, at least among the scientific community, but recent studies are identifying many new and unsuspected roles they play. Researchers are finding that microbes can either protect or promote various conditions like inflammation, diabetes and obesity. New data suggests that they can even influence our moods and behaviors.
“There are at least 1000 different types of bacteria residing in our intestines and their overall makeup is highly individual. Our unique gut microbe colony begins to develop just after birth or shortly before. It is influenced primarily by diet and its development is critical to our immune system. Babies that are breast-fed develop a different bacteria colony than those who are formula fed. Some scientists believe that this early development may affect our overall health for life,” according to Tom Griesel, co-author of TurboCharged: Accelerate Your Fat Burning Metabolism, Get Lean Fast and Leave Diet and Exercise Rules in the Dust.
The health and diversity of our gut microbes grows as we grow and in the end as we get older it starts to decline as our diets become less diverse. This is one reason why our immune system starts out weak at birth, strengthens as we grow and declines the older we get.
“Our individual microbiome is as unique as a fingerprint and the greater the diversity of whole natural foods in our diet the more it grows and better it behaves. The flip-side is also true, junk food produces more bad bacteria and is most likely the driving force behind the adverse health consequences of eating too much of it,” according to Griesel.
Our unique genome influences our gut flora and at least some features of our gut microbe colony are associated with our DNA. So, what happens when we change our diet? Studies consistently show that such changes produce quick changes in our microbiota. This means you get a new microbial identity.
Many drugs, especially antibiotics, alter the composition of our gut microbiome by indiscriminately destroying good and bad bacteria. This mass destruction can have many detrimental health implications.
There is now evidence that our gut microbiome can influence the brain, and vice versa. Behaviors of mice have been changed after bacteria transplants from other differently behaving mice. There are some bacteria that produce compounds that have an effect on the nervous system. Although the mechanisms are not entirely understood, there is enough human data to suggest that our gut microbes influence our moods and behavior. Depression is one example where gut microbiota is “different” and treatment with probiotics show positive results.
Griesel concludes, “Studies of the complex relationship with our resident bacteria are just beginning and may soon reveal why it is so important and how we can encourage a positive balance by simple dietary changes.”