Your Microbiome and You

microbiomeGuest Bloggers: Barbara Olendzki, RD, MPH, Director, Center for Applied Nutrition, UMass Medical School, and Cordelia Shee Toh, Nutrition Intern, UMass Medical School

Who are we, exactly?

For a long time, this age-old question has been holding a special place in the realms of philosophy and religion. However, science also has come up with an answer, though it may not be what you’re expecting.

Consider this: A 2016 study found that the number of human cells in a man (5 feet 6 inches tall, 154 pounds, 20 to 30 years old) is estimated to be 30 trillion, while that of the accompanying bacteria cells rounds up to 39 trillion according to PLoS biology. This means that you play host to many more bacteria cells than your own cells!

Bacteria? Should You Race for the Purell?

As host trillions of bacteria cells, does this mean that we should rush for Purell and the anti-bacterial soap? Not at all. In fact, don’t be too quick to regard these bacteria cells as harmful because the bulk of them actually aren’t. Most of these bacteria cells on us are the good guys and help protect us from the bad harmful bacteria.

They colonize on various parts of the body, such as the skin and gut, and form communities with unique compositions. Together, these bacteria are collectively termed the human microbiome, and they play major roles in bodily functions:

microbiome bacteria

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Your microbiome can reveal a lot about your health, and specific compositions of the microbiome have been correlated with certain diseases. Whether or not that’s a cause or effect of the disease leaves room for debate, but the message is clear … your microbiome is important to your health!

Protecting Your Microbiome

Much like your body, your microbiome needs regular maintenance, and a great way to do so is through diet. Probiotics and prebiotics are kicking up a storm, and there are good reasons why.

Probiotics are superb packages of live beneficial bacteria cultures. When ingested, they reinforce your microbiome. In line with that, prebiotics are foods for our good bacteria – to keep them healthy, strong and functional. Taken together, they pack a punch and deliver substantial health benefits in the long run. There is every reason to incorporate these superfoods into our diets, and consume them regularly.

Probiotic foods Prebiotic foods
Plain yogurt, plain kefir, miso, sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables, kombucha and other fermented beverages, raw organic honey, etc. Bananas, asparagus, all dark greens, leeks, onions, garlic, oats, barley, flaxseed, chia, hempseed, legumes (e.g., kidney beans, garbanzos), etc.

On the other hand, there are certain activities and foods that can alter the balance of our microbiome, be it temporarily or for the long term.

Activities and Environment Foods
Smoking, sedentary lifestyle, jet lag, change in geographic location, physical environment, hormones, stress, medications, including antibiotics and antibacterial agents, etc. Many processed foods high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, saturated and trans fats, genetically modified organisms (GMO), alcohol, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, etc.

Diligently abstaining from damaging lifestyle habits and foods can go a long way in minimizing harm to your microbiome. Couple that with the regular consumption of probiotics and prebiotics, and you can help your microbiome to flourish with exceptional results.

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  2 comments for “Your Microbiome and You

  1. August 2, 2018 at 2:22 pm

    Absolutely! Listen to this woman; she all but saved my boyfriend’s life when he was suffering from Ulcerative Colitis. Getting him on the right diet and turning around the microbiome was far better than just taking medications to treat the symptoms. He has now been in remission for a few years, and attributes Barbara with it all.

    • UMass Memorial
      August 6, 2018 at 8:38 am

      You are very kind to share these thoughts. We’ll be sure to send your comment to Barbara.

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