In many birthing circles, the term Microbiome is not a new one. The documentary Microbirth has created quite a stir amongst childbirth professionals and hence it’s been the talking point for many. The hour long documentary investigates the latest scientific research about the microscopic events happening during childbirth. Events that could have life-long consequences for the health of our children.
If you’re completely new to the idea however, simply put, the human microbiome is the term being used to describe a bacterial world that subsists on and in humans. A world consisting of very complex communities of microbial organisms that astonishingly outnumber our human cells by ten to one. They’re found in your gut of course, but also on your skin, hands, belly button, nose, and throughout your entire body.
So this microbiome is a tiny universe of bacteria that exists inside every human body. In the past, scientific research (and medicine) only focused on the ways harmful bacteria interact with us. Today, we are learning more and more the importance of “good” bacteria and how to work with them to create lasting, holistic health.
2015 was called “The year of the microbiome” by Fortune magazine. This may be a result of the fact that every day, there seemed to be a new study about how the microbiome is transforming the way we view health and healing. The range of benefits from improving your microbiome range from making you a better friend and lover, to helping you beat obesity, autoimmune disease, and other health conditions through to being the solution to anxiety and depression. If these studies are true, then how is it possible that we missed something so big for so long?
Is it because of the technology required to sequence and study microbes had yet been perfected? Or the sheer enormity of the study (the millions and millions of species) meant inusufficient funds and resources were available? Or could it be the resistance to challenging the status quo. We have built a life around fighting and defending bacteria. It takes quite a mind shift and change in direction to realise these are now our biggest asset and key to health and that we should be working with them, not against! What we do know is that until the breakthrough five year, HMP (Human Microbiome Project) was undertaken, we really did not fully understand our biology properly.
It is clear is that the sterile lives we have created in modern society, have not made us any healthier. In fact, they may well have made us a lot sicker. Babies are sterile in the womb and are seeded with microbes from the mother at birth. Our increased rates of C-section births, high use of broad spectrum anti-biotics from a young age, bottle feeding, and living in highly sterile living conditions have all worked to severly diminish the diversity of microbes living in and on us.
A large majority of the scientific focus has been predominantly on the species of microbes that reside in our gut. They have discovered how integral they are for metabolising drugs, digesting our food and providing energy and nutrients. These microbes really do influence our health, the size of our waistline, our mood, our stress resilience and even our behavior.
It seems that it is not only about trying to get more specific species of good bacteria, but rather about getting a healthy balance of a variety of species. People who lack microbial diversity seem to be the ones more vulnerable to disease. This has been found to be true for conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity and rheumatoid arthrities. So how do you create diversity? Leading microbiome researcher Professor Rob Knight highlights the importance of establishing a diverse bacterial population in the first year of life. His advice for living with kids is to get a dog, live on a farm, avoid antibiotics where possible, be breastfed and possibly take probiotics (good bacteria) supplements. Easier said than done for many of us. But it sure does make you think!