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You are 90% bugs, but are you the right kind?

Updated: Nov 14, 2021

Frequently unwell? Suffer from allergies, eczema, asthma, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, inflammatory disorders, depression, anxiety....?

Well the health of your gut may be responsible.

90% of our bodies are bugs! You are riddled with trillions of individual germs - a community of parasites, viruses, yeasts and bacteria that make up your microbiome.  The majority of these microbes reside in your gastrointestinal tract or gut. But the question is, are they the right kind of bugs? Are they the friendly kind that aid digestion, produce vitamins and protect against hostile germs? Or do they lower your immunity and put you at risk of certain diseases?

What is the microbiome and why is it so important?

The use of the term microbiome has exploded in the past decade. It is used to describe a community of microorganisms occupying a habitat such as the human body or a part of the human body (like the gastrointestinal tract).  The microorganisms are a vast array of species from bacteria, yeasts, parasites and viruses that have a physio-chemical role within that environment.

Your microbiome plays an important role in:

  • Immunity

  • Making B vitamins and vitamin K.

  • The production of essential amino acids such as tryptophan and serotonin.

  • The digestion and absorption of nutrients.

  • The protection of the epithelial lining of the gut (gastrointestinal tract).

  • Enhancing communication with cells.

  • Helping us make healthy food choices.

  • The protection of heavy metals.

  • Brain and mental health.

  • Physical health and prevention of diseases, even possibly cancer.

It may even have an impact on our personality and influence our body weight.

How can these bugs (microbes) impact our digestion, mood, sleep, immunity and more?

Lets use the production of the essential amino acid tryptophan as an example. Tryptophan is needed for general growth and development as it is involved in protein synthesis, but it is also a biochemical precursor to the vitamin niacin, a phytohormone auxin & perhaps most importantly the neurotransmitter serotonin. 

Serotonin is also known as the "happy hormone". Furthermore it is needed to produce melatonin, our "sleep neurohormone". The tryptophan --> serotonin --> melatonin pathway is an important one and necessary for adequate sleep and a stable mood.  How many people do you know that are moody, irritable, depressed and can't sleep?

Unfortunately tryptophan is not synthesized by our bodies, so we must get it from our diet, or it can be cleverly produced by the healthy microbes within our gut. If we have those healthy microbes.

Foods such as seeds and nuts, cheese, meat, fish and eggs are great food sources.  However a poorly functioning gut can affect how we digest food and absorb nutrients.

The quality of those food sources also plays a part, with heavy use of pesticides, fertilizers and preservatives further destroying our insides. It is a vicious cycle, which ultimately comes back to the necessity of having a healthy gut microbiome.

Plus it is known that 70-80% of our immune system comes from our gut, largely due to the actions of these microbes in regulating the immune system and modulating any inflammatory response. Immune cells in the gut are constantly interacting with the microbiome.

So how is your microbiome seeded? Why are future generations at stake?

Our microbiome is seeded when we are born and maybe even prior, in the womb. As we pass through the birth canal we are exposed to our mother's microbes and hopefully a vast array of "good" bugs.

Skin to skin exposure and colostrum in breast milk also help to provide our bodies with the collection of "good" bugs needed to produce a healthy microbiome (if the mother has these bugs to pass on). Babies born via C-section have obviously missed out on one route and therefore some obstetricians are using vaginal swabs to 'seed' c-section babies. For more information see the documentary - Microbirth. Or this article by midwife Dr Rachel Reed.

One study has found that seeding may even begin in the womb, through the placenta.  The bacterial ecosystem in the placenta was found to be very similar to those found in the adult mouth, as opposed to the vagina or gut.

Once absorbed into the mother's bloodstream, the microbes could then reach the baby either by crossing the baby's blood vessels within the placenta or by passing into amniotic fluid, which the baby swallows.

It was also suggested that the mother's diet and oral health were then important during pregnancy, not just for the obvious reasons of nutrition and infection, but for seeding this microbiome and even reducing the risk of premature delivery.

So essentially our birth plays a critical role in our health, and as a mother (and father through skin to skin contact) our child's life. Slowly we could be diluting our healthy microbiome, and affecting the DNA that is passed on to future generations. For every one human gene we have, there are 100 associated genes within our microbiome.

As Rodney Dietert, Professor of Immunotoxicology from Cornell University says in Microbirth;

"If we miss the window at that point (birth), then the immune system never matures correctly. And that can lead to haphazard responses and production of disease later in life."

How can we destroy our microbiome?

Even if we are fortunate enough to be seeded with a healthy microbiome, we can also destroy it. Recent studies suggest that our microbiome was more similar to primates and those in rural less developed countries. Our western diet of highly processed foods, heavy use of pesticides and overuse of medications such as antibiotics are mostly blamed for the destruction of our microbiome.  

What is dysbiosis?

Destruction of our microbiome can lead to dysbiosis. This is an imbalance in the quantity and type of microorganisms present in a person's natural microflora.

The term is typically used in reference to an imbalance in the gut microbiome and it is thought to contribute to a wide range of conditions of ill health, such as Inflammatory Bowel disease, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), acne, and even endometriosis.

Ultimately, poor gut health is known to increase the risk of infection, and studies suggest it may even play a role in dementia, obesity, diabetes, autism, eczema, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders, and so much more.

How can we "fix" gut dysbiosis or an imbalanced gut microbiome?

The great news is, there are many simple but effective ways to improve our microbiome and gut health. Learn more in "6 simple steps to heal your gut & boost your immune system".  Also discover these probiotic essentials in "All You Need To Know About Probiotics".


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