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Our Not-So-Creepy Microbiome

Think the blood, eyes, or urine are sterile? Think again! Recent research shows that we have microorganisms in and around all of our organs and circulating throughout our body. Pretty creepy, right? Wrong! These microbes help digest our food, help protect us against infection with harmful organisms, and help keep us healthy. I, for one, am still glad they are too small to see.

There are about 30-50 trillion microbes in and around an adult, or about 0.5 trillion microbes per kilogram of weight for children. This is about 1 to 1.3 microbes for each human cell in the body! Comparing the GENES of the microbes in our microbiome, that would be about 200 times the number of genes in the human genome. The microbiome is estimated to weigh between three and five pounds which is at least as much as the adult brain weighs. Let that one sink in for a minute.

How does the microbiome colonize us? Well, it starts in the womb. As if there wasn't already evidence enough to convince women to lead healthy lifestyles during pregnancy, recent research is mounting that bacteria, viruses and fungi begin to colonize the fetus in the womb. Moreover, this colonization changes based on how many weeks of gestation the infant completes in the womb. Premature infants have been found to have higher prevalence of Candida, a fungus that can cause anything from pesky thrush to serious invasive disease. Infants are further colonized during vaginal delivery. Timing is important; certain strains of bacteria, like Lactobacillus reuteri, colonize the gut much better if they are given the opportunity to do so very early in life. This is why I recommend L. reuteri probiotics to all of my newborn patients delivered by c-section. Breastfeeding continues the colonization of the microbiome. Eventually, there are on the order of one trillion bacteria per mL of fluid in the large intestine or colon. This is in stark contrast to the small intestine which normally has less than 10,000 bacteria per mL of fluid.

Keeping the microbiome happy is important. On the skin, disruption of the microbiome from too much scrubbing or hot water can lead to eczema, worsening acne or rosacea. In the gut, there are a whole host of issues that can result when the healthy microbiome is disrupted: abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and the like. But that's not all! The gut and the brain are connected via the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. So if your gut isn't happy, your brain may not be happy as well: think brain fog, headaches, and/or fatigue.

How do we keep the gut microbiome happy? Choosing whole, unprocessed foods is a great place to start. I include recipes and tips about how to incorporate vegetables into your family's diet in my "vegetable of the week" posts. So let's keep those gut microbiota friendly, not frightful, with healthy choices! Have a great Halloween!

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