Right now, there’s a party going on inside your body. The guests? Meet Your Microbiome---about 100 trillion bacteria.
These bacteria hang out everywhere, from your armpits and tongue to your lungs and gut. They eat the food you eat. They talk to each other, and like any big party, the good ones bring a good vibe and clean up after themselves (ie: boost immune system), while the bad ones make a mess and get you into trouble (ie: a strep throat instigator).
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago microbiologists considered the possibility that certain kinds of bacteria are not only useful, but they’re directly linked to well-being. This inner world of bacteria has come to be known as the microbiome.
What Does Your Microbiome Do For You?
Research has so far shown all those good guy bacteria could possibly lower cholesterol, tame symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), regulate your appetite, help with weight loss, boost your immune system and even influence your mood. The key, it seems, is establishing equilibrium between helpful and harmful bacteria.
Your microbiome is kind of like a rain forest. Both ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bugs are similar to the plants and species that keep the ecosystem in balance. The good players help a rain forest thrive, but even the bad guys are there for a reason. They only cause trouble when there’s a change, such as in your diet, which allows them to grow in such abundance they become toxic.
In a rain forest, diversity is the goal, and the same can be true for the microbiome. The more types of bugs in your body, the healthier you’re likely to be. The gut houses the biggest diversity of bacteria in the body—maybe even a thousand species.
Controlled trials have shown two strains of beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus GG and Saccharomyces, can shorten a bout of diarrhea in certain cases. They may prevent the type that can happen when taking antibiotics or even the sort that can occur with the potentially dangerous colon bacteria called Clostridium difficile (C. diff).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Several studies found a few different probiotic strains helped calm some IBS symptoms, such as abdominal pain and bloating —Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, or B. infantis.
Even though there are still major unknowns, the potential of the microbiome is so fascinating. Part 2 of this microbiome series focuses on the microbiome’s influence on appetite, body weight and a person’s mood. Part 3 discusses the best foods and snacks to build a better microbiome and the best foods and snacks to do so.
In Health and Happiness,
Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods
Choo JM et al. Amer Soc for Microbiology.