The microbiome has been one of the most interesting and exciting topics I have researched over the past year and a half because it is so powerful and closely linked to one’s health. The best part is that you can change your microbiome with your diet, lifestyle and environment! The microbiome is defined as the community of microorganisms such as bacteria, fungi, viruses and protozoa that exists in or on each of us. The gut microbiome is unique in each person and there are studies that prove it affects our health, weight, mood and even personality. In the past ten years, scientists have discovered how integral this bacterial community is to many aspects of our health and wellness. In fact, there are many studies that suggest that one’s microbiome is even MORE important than one’s DNA. There are an estimated 100 trillion microbes residing on each of us and the majority are in our gut, specifically in the large intestine. The number of genes in all the microbes in one person's microbiome is said to be 200 times the number of genes in the human genome.
A large project, called the Human Microbiome Project has been started so that scientists can map this collection of bacteria and find out how to potentially alter this presence in our bodies to benefit our wellbeing. It has already been discovered that different microbiomes can adversely or beneficially be tied to certain autoimmune diseases and obesity. Now scientists have to figure out how to use this information to alter the way diseases are treated and cured.
What is so fascinating about the microbiome is how it can be directly tied to so many of the issues prevalent in today’s health trends. Studies have been done on twins mapping out the difference in their microbial communities and how this has directly affected their health and weight. There are now fecal banks, OpenBiome being the largest in Cambridge, MA, that work with clinicians who perform Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT). Tens of thousands of Americans with Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), a debilitating bacterial infection resulting from overuse of antibiotics that strikes roughly half a million Americans a year and kills between 5-8%, have been cured through fecal transplants. There are studies in which fecal transplants are taken from a healthy person and put in a sick person and they get better, and transplanted from a happy person to a depressed person and that person becomes happier. Even chronic conditions such as IBS have been eliminated after a transplant. Scientists are now working on utilizing this treatment for diseases such as obesity, autism, ulcerative colitis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.
There are even direct to consumer companies, such as Viome, through which one may have their microbiome analyzed from a mail-in a sample. Thereafter, one uses their app that delineates foods specific to the given sample and provides advice as to which foods one should “avoid and minimize”, and “superfoods”, foods to “enjoy” and “supplements” tailored to one’s microbiome analysis.
There has been some controversy in the mainstream scientific community with regard to the link between the microbiome and disease, specifically targeting the cause/effect relationship between the two. However, functional medicine physicians feel that the information provided by one’s gut bacteria can help doctors immensely in the analysis of one’s overall health, and can effectively guide one’s healthcare decisions.