You might be hearing about the microbiome—and wondering if it’s really important or just a flavor-of-the-month topic. Here’s the microbiome definition & more.
The microbiome is making headlines in mainstream media publications, bringing it to the attention of more and more people—and, because some of the articles can get pretty technical, we decided to explain the fundamentals in our post.
To help, we first turned to the Merriam Webster dictionary, which gives the following as its microbiome definition: “a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit a particular environment and especially the collection of microorganisms living in or on the human body.” As noted by Science Daily, microorganisms are, by definition, so small that you can’t see them with the naked eye. They can only be seen using a microscope and, although you might think that they are single celled (unicellular), some microscopic organisms are in fact multi-celled.
The human body, in fact, is home to approximately 100 trillion bacteria and other microbes, and their abundance is what’s making microbiome research a red-hot area of exploration, at least in part, especially in connection with how it can impact our health.
At the core of microbiome research lies the gut-brain axis, a superhighway between the brain and gut that we explored in a recent blog post. In short, there are pathways between the gut and brain, both direct and indirect, with communications between them taking place both physically and bio-chemically. They also have help from other systems within the body, including the endocrine, immune, and autonomic nervous systems. Here’s what else plays a crucial role in this gut-brain superhighway: your body’s microbiome. In fact, these microorganisms are so important that a professor from the University of California San Diego told the BBC that we’re “more microbe” than human.
The New York Times is calling human microbiome research “perhaps the most promising yet challenging task of modern medicine,” with these two key components:
So, scientists are collaborating on the Human Microbiome Project to discover how the following tissues should ideally look: “gastrointestinal tract, oral cavity, skin, airways, urogenital tract, blood and eye.” It’s a good start!
Microbiomes and Mental Health
Not too long ago, all this talk about invisible little organisms traveling through your body and playing a key role in physical health would have sounded like science fiction—and, to add to the picture, scientists are learning that the human microbiome can play a big role in “how you feel mentally on an everyday basis.”
Traditionally, it was believed that our brain sent messages to the rest of our body. And, while that’s still true, the groundbreaking news is that the stomach is also sending important messages to the brain, in large part through the human microbiome. That’s why what you eat and the quality of your nutrition can play a key factor in your mental health and emotional well-being.
There are eight known neurotransmitters (nerve fiber chemicals) that can impact your happiness, including serotonin and dopamine. And, as much of 90 percent of serotonin is actually created in our guts! Seriously. Plus, about half of our body’s dopamine is also created in our gut, which helps to illustrate how the quality of your microbiome and how well it’s balanced can play a huge role in how you feel daily.
Science fiction, this is not! The new wave of science—Yes. That, it is.