What is a microbiome?
The microbiome is the collection of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us. Although these so small that they require a microscope to see them, they contribute in big ways to human health, bowel health, mental health and overall wellness.
They protect us against infections, help our immune system develop, take care of our mind and body and enable us to digest food to produce energy.
Some microbes alter environmental substances in ways that make them more toxic, while others act as a buffer and make toxins less harmful.
Because the microbiome is a key interface between the body and the environment, these microbes can affect health in many ways. Research has shown that the gut microbiome has roles in many different conditions , but this also means it offers new ways to treat diseases.
We can get these microbes from the food we eat, the plants we grow, and the soil we grow them in.
Your Gut Microbiome?
The gut microbiome refers to the complex community of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other microbes, that live in the gastrointestinal tract of humans and other animals. The majority of these microorganisms are bacteria, and they play a crucial role in various aspects of human health.
The human gut microbiome is a dynamic and diverse ecosystem, with each person’s microbiome being unique. Your gut microbiome can be influenced by factors such as diet, lifestyle, genetics, and environmental exposures.
The gut microbiome is involved in several important functions, including:
- Digestion and Metabolism: Certain microbes help break down complex carbohydrates and fibers that the human body cannot digest on its own. This process produces short-chain fatty acids and other byproducts that can be used as a source of energy.
- Immune System: The gut microbiome plays a role in training and managing the immune system. It helps distinguish between harmful and beneficial substances, contributing to the body’s immune system.
- Protection Against Pathogens: A healthy gut microbiome can prevent the overgrowth of harmful bugs (known as pathogens) by competing for food sources and producing chemicals that stop these pathogens growing.
- Link to Bowel Disorders: Research, including that we have funded, suggests that the gut microbiome affects the development of bowel cancer and bowel disease. By understanding this it will help develop new ways to test, treat and potentially prevent bowel disorders.
- Synthesis of Vitamins: Some bacteria in the gut microbiome are capable of enhancing certain vitamins, such as B vitamins and vitamin K, which can contribute to the host’s overall nutrition.
- Metabolism and Weight Regulation: Emerging research, including research we have funded, suggests a potential link between the composition of the gut microbiome and metabolism, as well as its influence on weight regulation and obesity.
Alterations in the gut microbiome have been associated with various health conditions, including inflammatory bowel diseases, autoimmune disorders, allergies, and metabolic disorders. Researchers are actively studying the role of the gut microbiome in health and disease, and there is growing interest in the development of interventions such as probiotics and prebiotics to modulate the microbiome for therapeutic purposes.
The key questions
Research has yielded tremendous insight into the links between the gut microbiome, environmental exposures, and human health. Yet big questions remain and these include:
- What are the links between what we eat, the soil and plants and our overall health?
- What information about the microbiome should be collected to understand how the microbiome responds to environmental exposures?
- How can we alter the gut microbiome to prevent and treat bowel disease?
By shining a spotlight on this, we hope to find the answers to these questions, and by funding research we will get those answers quicker.