The search towards the secret and control over our body’s health has been a tiresome one. Every day, more studies seem to point that the microbiome is the key to health and balance. The microbiome is a relatively unexplored area composed of different microbes that, ideally, live in a symbiotic relationship with one another. When found in harmony, it is a micro-ecosystem that flourishes for the benefit of all.
Our bodies function in the same way as an ecosystem and the microbiome itself is an entire environment that fuels the entire system. The microbiome is similar to a fingerprint, its composition is unique in every human being and the journey to a healthy and balanced microbiome is different from one individual to the next.
Role of the microbiome in humans
Whilst humans consider themselves to be on top of the evolutionary pyramid, from a microscopic level, humans can be seen as vessels to the microscope community. Humans are composed of 90% microbial cells and only 10% of human cells. These microbial cells include; bacteria (the majority), viruses, archaea, protozoa, and fungi. On average, there are approximately 100 trillion microbes that live in or on our bodies. If one was to combine the number of genes in all the microbes found in one person’s microbiome, it would be about 200 times the number of genes of a human’s genome.
Studies have shown that a change in the microbiome, specifically the gut microbiota, results in changes in health and even human behavior and preferences. They say “you are what you eat” couldn’t be any truer. Several studies have been conducted to find the relationship between diet and changes in the human gut microbiome. Whilst we perceive food cravings as our own craving, studies have shown that our food preferences and not so much our own, as they are the nutritional needs of the bacteria that live in our gut.
Bacterial disbalance within the microbiome
If you view the microbiome as an eco-system, you will realize that the aspect of duality; bad or disease, seizes to exist. It is more a matter of understanding that there is a limited space in which different organisms may live in. As in nature, it is important to understand that there is no such thing as free space. Should space become free within the environment, either a new organism will enter the community, or the free space would be distributed amongst the existing community. Ideally for all, organisms would live harmoniously, with each having its own portion of the environment and each would have its own function within the whole environment. This symbiosis would benefit all.
In some cases, an organism within this environment would for some reason begin to take more territory, meaning it would take territory from another organism. This is what would be referred to as overgrowth and would inevitably cause a disbalance within the ecosystem. In another case, an organism that is not part of the given ecosystem would find itself in foreign territory and would start to take away territories of the native organisms and diminish their population. This would be what we commonly refer to as a pathogenic organism.
In both cases of disbalance, if the problematic organism is bacteria, antibiotics would be a “go-to” solution. However, such medication does not simply destroy an overgrowth or the pathogenic bacteria; it kills ALL bacteria in its way. If the pathogenic bacteria were a weed growing in a patch of land, antibiotic treatments are similar to throwing gasoline and lighting the entire field on fire to destroy the weed. These treatments destroy far beyond the pathogen and what is worse is that they leave the body in a very vulnerable state, easy prey to other conditions.
Luckily nature is perfect, unlike humans, it has a universal rule; balance. There are methods of achieving balance within the microbiome without a nuclear option, such as antibiotics. Bacteriophages are natural predators of bacteria and what is unique about them is their ability to target very specific bacteria; even down to specific strains. They do not blindly destroy bacteria. They have a unique ability to diminish the population of a specific bacteria within the given environment so that it no longer is a threat to the environment or organism. Their ability to listen to bacteria, analyze the population threshold, and communicate with the host’s immune cells is something that is truly fascinating.
Although bacteriophages are currently constantly being compared to antibiotics, they are more superior. Some refer to them as nature’s nanotechnology whilst others view them as watchers of balance in nature. One thing is for sure, if it weren’t for them, this entire world would have been infested and destroyed by bacteria.
Microbiome vs Microbiota: Human microbiome and the individual microbiotas
The microbiome is referred to the collection of genomes of all microorganisms found in a particular environment. The microbiota refers to the microorganisms found in a specific environment. An individual human is a unique microbiome that consists of several microbiotas. These microbiotas include; gut (intestinal), oral (oropharyngeal), skin, vaginal (Döderlein flora), and even placental. Each is composed of a unique selection of microbes that ideally, are living in harmony resulting in a balanced and healthy human body.
The gut or intestinal microbiota is the largest of all microbiotas and harbors the majority of microbes in the body. There are somewhere between 300 to 1000 different species found in the gut microbiota. It is also often referred to as the ‘barrier organ’ as 70%-80% of the body’s immune cells are found in the gut.
One of the best and long-term methods of creating a healthy and balanced gut microbiota is to focus on the actual organisms that will help achieve that balance. This is mainly done by focusing on Synbiotics. The two main components that form Synbiotics are Prebiotics and Probiotics, and the result of the two is referred to as Postbiotics.
These are substances that serve as food for the probiotics (bacteria and yeast) to develop and multiple. Some say that they are even more important for our bodies than prebiotics. Benefits of Prebiotics include; improving calcium absorption, changing how quickly the body can process carbohydrates, supporting the probiotic growth of gut bacteria, potentially enhancing digestion and metabolism.
Examples of Prebiotic foods
Fiber is known to be one of the most powerful prebiotics. Although we may not be able to digest it properly, it allows stabilizing our gut health by providing a nutritious environment to healthy bacteria.
- Leeks, onions, garlic
- Oats, barley, wheat bran, rye
- Chicory root, burdock root, yacon root, jicama root, konjac root
- Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichoke
- Unripe banana, apples
- Dandelion greens
- Cocoa (contains polyphenols, that promotes the growth of Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and decreased the abundance of Clostridium)
- Honey (contains oligosaccharides that can promote the growth of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria)
Spores of good bacteria and yeasts help balance out the digestive system and fight against bad flora, resulting in a healthy gut. Ideally, when these spores reach our gut, they can multiply. Realistically, our gut may not have the best conditions for these spores to properly grow and multiple, which is why it is important to intake prebiotics, which gives these spores the nutrients to develop and multiple.
When intaking probiotics, before a course of medication, the more the better. Dosage should be between 10 to 20 billion bacteria. If the probiotic was not kept as instructed, chances are the dosage has even fewer spores that will be able to be active. The best combination of probiotics is those where there is a combination of spores from different types of bacteria.
Examples of Probiotic foods
Fermented foods are known to be rich in probiotic foods. These include; Sourdough bread, yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, natto, kimchi, kombucha, pickled vegetables, fermented buttermilk, and fermented cheeses.
Probiotic yeast in supplement form:
- Saccharomyces boulardii
Probiotic bacteria in supplement form:
- Bacillus clausii
- Bacillus coagulans
- Bacillus indicus
- Bacillus subtilis
- Bifidobacterium bifidum
- Bifidobacterium breve
- Bifidobacterium longum
- Lactobacillus acidophilus
- Lactobacillus casei
- Lactobacillus paracasei
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- Streptococcus thermophilus
Probiotic bacteria not available in supplement form:
- Akkermansia (helps maintain a healthy body mass by not allowing excess weight and prevention of developing diabetes)
- Oxalybacter (helps to prevent the growth of kidney stones (bacteria which unfortunately gets terminated from our gut after 1 or 2 courses of antibiotics))
Both Akkermansia and Oxalybacter are bacteria that once they disappear from your gut, you will unlikely be able to have them develop again.
Postbiotics refer to the end products that are naturally produced by bacteria and are absorbed by our cells. Postbiotics are metabolites or byproducts of probiotics. When probiotic bacteria feed on prebiotics, they produce postbiotics. In short, postbiotics are waste products of probiotics, but like every in nature, one organism’s waste is another one’s gain. Vitamin B12 is a perfect example of a postbiotic, as it is the byproduct of the Bifidobacteria.
Postbiotics play a crucial role in reducing inflammation, killing pathogens, regulating insulin and hormonal levels, increasing immunity, and contributing to the overall balance within the body.
The oral or oropharyngeal microbiota is considered to be the second-largest microbiota. It consists of over 700 species of just bacteria, as well as fungi, viruses, and protozoa. The mouth is a complex habitat where microorganisms colonize soft tissues of the oral mucosa and hard surfaces of the teeth.
Products for oral microbiota
The oral microbiota is directly linked to the gut microbiota and certain pathogenic bacteria make their way from the mouth all the way to the gut. Daily Dental Care lozenges contain pHossident™ prebiotic which blocks pathogenic bacteria from converting sugars and starches into acid, plaque, and other destructive byproducts for our health.
TEEF! Is a water supplement for dogs that contains Protektin42™ prebiotic powder. This prebiotic helps improve the oral microbiota for oral health in dogs. Canines suffer greatly from dental disease caused by dysbiosis, which is an imbalance caused by pathogenic bacteria. TEEF! helps create balance in the oral microbiota by weakening the growth and presence of the harmful bacteria, resulting in healthier gums and an overall healthier oral microbiota in dogs.
The skin microbiota or flora consists of a community of microbes of which there is approximately 1000 different bacterial species and up to 80 different fungi species. Most of the microbes are found on the upper superficial layers of the epidermis and upper parts of the hair follicles. The skin as an organ is considered to be the largest and protective organ that stands between the organism and the environment.
Products for skin microbiota
In the modern developed world, with all our human developments in utilizing harsh soaps and other products, we have eliminated one of the most crucial members of our skin microbiome; ammonia-oxidizing bacteria. Communities, such as the Yanomami tribe, untouched by the modern world have managed to maintain AOB on their skin, which contributed not only to their vibrant skin but was also the key to the balanced skin microbiota. MIT scientists managed to source AOB and create Mother Dirt, which is not only capable of preserving the bacteria, but also delivering the bacteria effectively to help restore the skin microbiome.
Phortify prebiotic serum contains bacteriophages that target Cutibacterium acnes, formerly known as Propionibacterium. Since bacteriophages can be selected to target either a family of bacteria or specific strains, phages in their natural state make for excellent components in skincare as they both target and regulate the skin microbiota, and cause no harm to anything or anyone except their targeted bacteria.
In trials with patients suffering from acne, the Phortify prebiotic serum did not target the good strain of C.acnes RT6. The bacteriophages helped diminish the overgrowing pathogenic strains of RT4, RT5, and RT8 of C.acnes, whilst giving the beneficial, diminished population of RT6, to develop and restore its population.
Cutibacterium acnes bacteriophages target the entire family of C.acnes, however, unlike antibiotics, they do not kill all bacteria, but rather balance out the environment until the skin is returned to its balanced state.
The vagina microbiota, also referred to as the Döderlein flora, contains the predominant presence of Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteria. This bacterium produces lactic acid and thrives in a low oxygen environment and the vagina being an environment of only 2% of oxygen content outside air. The most common forms of infections include; Bacterial vaginosis (BV), Vulvovaginal candidiasis (VC), and Aerobic vaginitis (AV).
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common infection in women and occurs when there is a disbalance between good and bad bacteria. BV can increase the risk of STDs and, in pregnant women, BV has been associated with serious pregnancy complications, such as; premature rupture of the membranes surrounding the baby in the uterus, preterm labor, premature birth, chorioamnionitis, as well as endometritis. The bacteria that is the cause of BV can sometimes infect the uterus and fallopian tubes. This type of infection is known as a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
Products for vaginal microbiota
An increase of pathogenic bacteria or yeast can cause a disbalance in the vaginal microbiota. Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) being the primary infection in women between the ages of 15 to 44. V-Bella primarily treats vaginal bacterial, yeast, and urogenital infections. It rebalances the pH levels, as acidic pH can increase the chances of infection.
The placental microbiota is known to be made of a unique composition of microbes. There also seems to be a dominance of four phyla; Proteobacteria (the most abundant), Bacteroidetes, Actinobacteria, and Firmicutes. Research has shown that the placental microbiota is very different from the vaginal microbiota and from all other microbiotas in the body, resembles the oral microbiota the most. Species such as Neisseria, which are part of the oral microbiota have also been found in the placental microbiota.
Another interesting observation was made when researchers studied the placental microbiotas from preterm birth and those of full-term births. Placentas from preterm births had the abundance of proteobacteria Burkholderia, whilst placentas from full-term birth had the presence of endospore-forming bacteria Paenibacillus that was highly prevalent.
Humans are taught from a young age (directly or indirectly) about the numerous ways on how to divide themselves amongst their own kind through colours of a flag, race, religion, and any other possible differentiations. Yet, the most vital constant of our existence is totally ignored, the fact that we are not above or apart from other organisms and our surroundings, but rather, are just one type of organism existing in an environment made up of a vast diversity of organisms. In reality, humans have as little control over the universe as they do over other organisms, both that are seen and unseen. Balance is key and recognizing the importance of maintaining balance is ultimately what defines an organism that is healthy and one that is not.