When your health condition worsens naturally, you want to know why. Especially if it refers to digestion and intestinal health. The more researchers study the microbiome, the more we realize how important it is. An increasing number of recent studies have focused on determining how we acquire microbes present in the body and their influence on our health. Most studies have focused on people living in developed countries, but in the last few years, scientists have begun to investigate what similarities and differences exist between people in non-industrialized societies and those in modern societies and what are the factors that determines them.
What Is the Microbiome?
The microbiome is the second major interface between the outside world and the human internal environment. It forms a “tube” of 9 meters long from mouth to anus, with an area of 250 – 400 m2. The microbiome weighs 1-2 kg and exceeds the liver in the number of biochemical substances and reactions in which it participates. During a lifetime, over 60 tons of food will pass through the gastrointestinal system.
The over 1000 different species that live in the microbiome are in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. It is a collection of cells that work together with the host and can maintain its health.
The microbiome is directly responsible for the health of the host. Among the functions of the microbiome and the systems in which it is directly involved are: regulation of the immune system and metabolism, proper digestion and absorption of nutrients, production of hormones and neurotransmitters that affect mood and memory, antimicrobial protection against dangerous microbes, production of short chain fatty acids, blood glucose control, insulin sensitivity, inflammation, allergy protection, intestinal motility, production of vitamins B and K, absorption of minerals like calcium, magnesium and zinc, energy production.
In conditions of imbalance, however, and in the absence of an appropriate microbial diversity, the microbiome becomes directly involved in the development of disorders, both in the gastrointestinal system and in other systems of the body:
Alcoholic liver disease
Irritable bowel syndrome
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Chronic fatigue syndrome
High cholesterol and triglycerides
Factors That Alter the Health of the Microbiome.
According to the hypothesis launched by Martin Blaser in 2009, our ancestors have evolved since ancient times having a diverse, commensal microbiome (beneficial to the body). But, through modern medical practices, the lifestyle and the modified diets, different from the ancestral ones, the microbiome in the human populations changed, sometimes to an extreme extent. The disappearance of the indigenous ancestral organisms, which are directly involved in human physiology, is not entirely beneficial and has negative consequences such as the emergence of growing degenerative diseases.
Among the factors that have been determined to be the main causes of alteration of the intestinal microbiome are:
Processed, toxic, restrictive diets, incorrect for one’s metabolism
Increasing cesarean sections
Use of antibacterial hygiene products
Lack of physical exercise
How Can we Diversify and Restore the Balance of the Microbiome?
In general, people who consume prebiotics, probiotics (from food and supplements) and adequate amounts of fiber from vegetables and fruits, as well as traditionally fermented foods, will enrich their gut flora with beneficial bacteria. Often, this is not enough to restore balance in the digestive system; many other aspects must be considered, including: the consumption of a diet suitable for the metabolic type, the proper consumption of nutrients from supplements, biochemical balancing, healing of the leaky gut syndrome, elimination of intestinal pathogens, reduction of inflammation and toxicity.
The gastrointestinal tract is the main way the body uses to eliminates metabolic wastes and hazardous chemicals. Imbalances in the intestine such as chronic constipation, practically poison the body with pathogenic bacteria and toxic substances continuously. Ensuring proper intestinal motility is therefore essential. For this, not only the digestive balance must be solved, but also the function of the liver and gallbladder.
Other beneficial and important actions for maintaining a healthy microbiome that you can take are: avoiding medical interventions that cause dysbiosis (imbalance in the intestinal flora), avoiding processed foods, food additives, pesticides, pollution, avoiding restrictive diets for long periods, medicines, especially antibiotics and powdered milk (for infants). Choose natural personal hygiene and cleaning products, based on essential oils and avoid conventional products with synthetic and toxic antimicrobial substances.
Regarding the correct and precise detection of the presence of pathogenic and beneficial microorganisms, as well as of the state of the intestinal microbiome, I use the GI MAP test in my practice. It is a revolutionary test, which uses sophisticated DNA analysis technology and an impressive number of digestive, immune and microbial markers; the result can thus offer many important clinical information that cannot be detected in any other way and contribute to the development of a targeted plan for intestinal healing. Other tests such as Ubiome also provide interesting insights into the diversity of the gut microbial population and, through proper analysis, can yield important clinical data.
The Microbiome of Traditional Populations: A Comparative Study.
In the largest such study to date, researchers investigated the gut microbiome of people from seven diverse ethnic populations in isolated areas of Botswana and Tanzania, compared to a group in the United States. Their findings demonstrated the relative impact of lifestyle, geography and genetics on microbiome development. Our microbiome – a complex community of bacteria, fungi, parasites and other microorganisms inside and outside the body, reflects the way we live. If we live with a pet, or at an animal farm, chances are high that we have microbial populations in common with those of animals. Our eating pattern also has a major influence on the microbiome.
Previous efforts to examine intestinal microorganisms of rural Africans have typically compared a single African population with one or more populations in industrialized countries. These previous studies indicated the differences between groups; for example, a comparison of the intestinal microbiome between Italians and Hadza hunter-gatherers from Tanzania identified several groups of bacteria present in Hadza that were not previously identified in Western populations.
In US samples, researchers have identified at a molecular level certain mechanisms involved in the decomposition of environmental pollutants, such as bisphenol and DDT, an insecticide banned in the US since the 1970s.
The tendency is clear: the more people’s nutrition goes beyond a western, modern diet, the greater the variety of microbes they tend to have in their intestines. Also, there are bacterial species that are completely absent in the intestine of modern populations.
So, whether it’s people from Africa, Papua New Guinea or South America, communities that live a traditional lifestyle have healthy, protective microbial species, exactly the ones missing in the industrialized world.
The Hadza tribes in Tanzania are hunters – gatherers, consume roots, wild fruits and hunt animals with the help of bows and axes, moving much on foot. Their intestines contain microbial communities that are very different from anything previously analyzed in a modern human population – probably providing a snapshot of the human gut microbiome from before the era of agriculture, about 12,000 years ago.
Also, the ecosystem in our intestines adapts not only to our diet, but also to the environment in which we live.
In order to study the difference between the ancient and the modern intestines, the researchers analyzed stool samples from 16 Italians from the urban area and 27 from the Hadza population, of both sexes. The intestinal flora of the Italians was generally what researchers expected to see in Western diets, with some Mediterranean influences. But what they noticed in the Hadza population tests was a leap into a continent lost in time – a surprising biodiversity!
“The Hadza population’s microbiome has a completely unique combination of bacteria compared to any western or rural African population that was sampled,” said study co-author Alyssa Crittenden, nutritional anthropologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. .
Many of the bacteria are species that researchers have never seen before. Even familiar microbes were present at unusual levels in the body of the Hadza population. Hadza not only has “healthy bacteria” and does not suffer from the diseases we suffer in modern society, but also has a high number of bacteria associated with diseases, which in this case actually offers protection!
Photo credit: Amanda Henry
The image above shows the abundance and diversity of the gut microbiome in different cultures. The Hadza population has not only unexpected quantities of known bacteria, but also has many species that have not been observed before in other cultures.
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