Fascinating Facts About Your Microbiome

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By Russ Barton

You can’t see them, but they’re everywhere. They help you digest food. They’re part of your immune system. They communicate with your brain. And they even influence your behavior.

They are the trillions of microscopic organisms that share your body.

Science is beginning to unlock the mystery of this fascinating, powerful unseen world. Let’s meet your microbial friends with amazing facts that will leave you eager to learn more. We’ll start by defining microbiome.

The human body is home to trillions of bacteria and other microbes that live on and inside you. The microorganisms themselves are collectively known as the microbiota. The more common term—microbiome—encompasses all collective microbial genetic information (DNA).

No matter what term you choose—microbiome will be the preferred one going forward—these microbes are all over your body. Although the microorganisms are prominent on the skin, in the mouth, and more, the largest portion reside in the gut.

The scientific understanding of your microbiome is still in its infancy. However, what is known really inspires the imagination. Buckle up while you explore 22 amazing facts about the microscopic world that calls your body home.

  1. The average human body contains around 40 trillion microbial cells, which is about the same number as its human cells.
  2. Bacteria are the most talked about microbe, but the microbiome also consists of fungi, protozoa, and viruses.
  3. Just one teaspoon of stool contains enough bacterial DNA data to fill 100,000 one-terabyte thumb drives.
  4. Each region of your body has a unique microbiome. The microbes living on your hands are different from those in your armpits. And your mouth has different microbiome than your gut.
  5. There are about 10 times more microbes in the human body than stars in the Milky Way galaxy.
  6. Many experts now consider the gut microbiome a separate organ, with distinct metabolic and immune activity.
  7. The trillions of microbes in your body represent as many as 5,000 different species, weighing approximately two kilograms total—about the weight of a two-liter bottle of water.
  8. Microbes in your gut can produce signals that travel all the way to your brain. This is part of a system known as the Gut-Brain Axis.
  9. Probiotics are microorganisms (usually bacteria) that have beneficial effects on health or microbiome composition.
  10. Prebiotics are compounds in food (usually fiber) that the human body cannot digest. But they serve as food for probiotics. Prebiotics and probiotics work together to support helpful bacteria and other organisms in the gut.
  11. Your lifestyle can have a positive influence on your microbiome. That includes having a healthy diet, exercising, practicing good stress management, and getting proper sleep.
  12. It’s normal for the gut microbiota to include potentially pathogenic (unhealthy) strains. But when the community balance is maintained, these possible bad actors are kept in check and can even end up being beneficial.
  13. Humans aren’t the only ones with microbiomes. Animals, plants, oceans, and even dirt have their own microbiomes.
  14. Skincare products can affect the microbes on your skin. Lotion seems to affect the composition less, while antiperspirants affect the composition more.
  15. Scientists are beginning to study microbiome transplants as a way to treat disordered microbial communities in people with chronic and severe health problems. There are even people studying microbiome transplants as a way to remedy extra-stinky armpits.
  16. Your gut microbes stay busy. They help harvest energy from food, reinforce the gut barrier, manufacture neurotransmitters (brain chemicals such as serotonin), synthesize some vitamins, and perform other immune and metabolic functions.
  17. The science of defining microbiome is still in its infancy, so the composition of a “normal” microbiome hasn’t been determined. However, a dysfunctional microbiome has been associated with health disorders like obesity, diabetes, mental health, cardiovascular disease, skin conditions, and oral health issues.
  18. Antibiotic use can alter your microbiome. Antibiotics not only act on bacteria that cause infections but also affect your normal microbial residents. To help restore balance more quickly, it’s important to eat a healthy fiber-rich diet and consider probiotic supplementation after a course of antibiotics.
  19. Everyone has a unique microbiome. Some scientists are even studying how to use microbiome forensics at crime scenes.
  20. Children raised in homes with pets have less risk of allergic diseases. This is linked to the animals’ influence on the microbiome.
  21. The shift in gut microbiota following gastric bypass may be the reason why Type 2 diabetes is often improved or resolved even before weight reduction begins.
  22. Infants born via C-section have different microbiomes than babies born vaginally. Breastfeeding also results in a different microbiome when compared to formula feeding. After six to nine months, these differences largely disappear.

It Pays to be Nice to Your Microbes

We have a lot to learn about the microbiome, but this is an area of rapid, vigorous scientific research with new discoveries coming almost faster than it took to compile this list.

Share these fun facts with your friends, and stay tuned. Important discoveries are likely coming soon that will change the way we view the microbiome’s connection to health. Until those breakthroughs happen, focus on what you know. A healthy diet rich in fiber, regular exercise, restful sleep, and good stress management are keys to good health. And that the impact your lifestyle has on the microbiome is a major reason why.