Microbes are good for your health

Summary

Microbes are a hidden but major component of our bodies, almost playing the part of a “forgotten limb.” The diversity and health of the microbes present, especially in the digestive tract, is key to the well-being and health of their human hosts.

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“You are your microbes.” An animation video recently published by TED-Ed (an extension of the TED talks that creates “lessons worth sharing”) explains to children, in simple words and with colourful images, how important their own microbes are to their health and well-being. But it is highly possible that adults, too, need this kind of reminder.

 


 

Discovering the gut flora

 

The microbes that inhabit our bodies perform a series of services for us every day. More specifically, those which live in our digestive systems (forming what is called the “gut flora”) play an important part in our general health. As Wikipedia lists, the role of these micro-organisms includes fermenting unused energy substrates, training the immune system to respond only to pathogens, preventing the growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria and thus of diseases,regulating the development of the gut, producing nutrients such as biotin and vitamin K for the host,stimulating cell growth and producing hormones to direct the host to store fats.

The human body carries about 100 trillion micro-organisms in its intestines, a number ten times greater than the total number of human cells in the body. (…)

The metabolic activities performed by these bacteria resemble those of an organ, leading some to liken gut bacteria to a « forgotten » organ.It is estimated that these gut flora have around a hundred times as many genes in aggregate as there are in the human genome.”

This explains why the TED-Ed video says that our microbes make up who we are, shape our everyday lives and comfort, and even our personalities. Each and every person has a unique gut flora that is a combination of genetic and environmental influences. Between 300 and 1,000 species live in the gut, and that diversity is the result of our upbringing, our food habits, the genetic material passed on by our parents, etc. Research has established that there are three different main kinds of microbes that shape the gut flora and are strongly linked to the host’s diet: Prevotella, Bacteroides and Ruminococcus. “For example, Prevotella is related to carbohydrates and simple sugars, indicating an association with a carbohydrate-based diet more typical of agrarian societies, while Bacteroides enterotypes is associated with animal proteins, amino acids and saturated fats, components typical of a Western diet.”

The TED-Ed video simplifies this idea for children, by showing how eating apples instead of lollipops help preserve and even restore the vitality of the gut flora. It is thus partly in our power to foster, through what we eat, the diversity of the microbes that inhabit our gut and, as a result, enjoy a healthier life.

Cover photo from the video « You are your microbes »