Our gut microbiomes are home to several pounds of minuscule microorganisms whose jobs include helping digest our food, producing certain vitamins, regulating our immune system, and keeping us healthy by protecting us against disease-causing bacteria.
A ‘microbiome’ is defined as the collection of microbes or microorganisms inhabiting an environment, creating a mini-ecosystem. (Baylor College of Medicine, 2017)
These tiny residents in our gut microbiomes include numerous colonies of bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microbes. Of the bacterial colonies living in our guts, some are probiotic (beneficial – good for us) and some are pathogenic (disease causing – bad for us). If your gut microbiome contains too few good bacteria and too many bad ones, you’re either already sick or on your way there.
OUR BODIES ARE MOSTLY MICROBIAL
In case you find the idea of pounds of gut-dwelling microbes disgusting, you should know that they (along with the microbes in the other microbiomes in and on our bodies) far outnumber our human cells.
“From the Human Genome Project we learned that the human genome has about 20,000 protein-coding genes—no more than a mouse has, and fewer than some common laboratory plants! How could such intelligent, exquisite, complicated beings as ourselves get by with so few genes? It turns out that we humans are not simply just humans. Each one of us is an ecosystem with an estimated one trillion other microscopic organisms living in and on us at any given time. And these organisms, collectively known as our microbiome, contain about 300 times the number of genes than our own genomes express.” (Perkins, 2017)
Those other nonhuman cells reside in the colonies of bacteria and other microorganisms living in and on us – representing about 10,000 different species. Contrary to what we see in the mirror and how we understand our physical SELF, it turns out each of us is actually a complex ecosystem made up of some human and many many more non-human cells.
An estimated 30 trillion cells in your body—less than a third—are human. The other 70-90% are bacterial and fungal.
“‘The human we see in the mirror is made up of more microbes than human,’ said Lita Proctor of the National Institutes of Health, who’s leading the Human Microbiome Project.
“The definition of a human microbiome is all the microbial microbes that live in and on our bodies but also all the genes — all the metabolic capabilities they bring to supporting human health,’ she said.
“These microbes aren’t just along for the ride. They’re there for a reason. We have a symbiotic relationship with them — we give them a place to live, and they help keep us alive.
“‘They belong in and on our bodies; they help support our health; they help digest our food and provide many kinds of protective mechanisms for human health,’ Protor said.” (Stein, 2012)
99% of the unique genes in your body are bacterial. Only about 1% is human.
This human-microbial ecosystem arrangement works quite well unless the balance of good to bad microbes becomes chronically disturbed – especially in the gut microbiome, which bears the largest responsible for keeping us healthy.
Gut dysbacteriosis (also called gut dysbiosis) is an imbalance in the gut flora caused by too few beneficial (probiotic) bacteria and an overgrowth of bad (pathogenic) bacteria, yeast, and/or parasites.
SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) refers to a condition is which a mixture of gut flora and partially digested food from the colon has worked its way back through the ileocecal valve into the small intestine and taken up residence there.
The ileocecal valve is a sphincter muscle situated at the junction of the ileum (the final portion of the small intestine) and the colon (the first portion of the large intestine).
The small intestine is where 90% of digestion takes place. It’s main job is to absorb the nutrients and minerals from your food.
The function of the ileocecal valve is to allow the partially digested food materials to pass in only one direction: from the small intestine into the large intestine. When this valve is working poorly, it can allow some of that partially digested food, mixed with gut flora and toxins that belong only in the large intestine, to ‘back flow’ into the small intestine.