[ Microbiome ]
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome is your body’s bacterial friends.
More precisely, it is the collective gene pool of all the microorganisms that live on and in your body. Most of these live in the gut, but many also live elsewhere on the body, e.g. on the skin and in the vagina. Together these microorganisms represent more than 50% of the total number of cells in your body.
A few of them are harmful (pathogens) but the vast majority are either harmless or even essential to you and your health (probiotics).
Are bacteria dangerous?
No, quite the opposite. The majority are important to our health.
All bacteria being dangerous is one of our time’s greatest misunderstanding. Bacteria cannot be put into a single bucket. Of the millions of bacteria that exist, scientists only know about less than 100 that are pathogenic, i.e. harmful to humans.
The vast majority of the bacteria that live on and in us are essential to our basic physiological qualities, such as digesting our food, supporting our immune system, and overall maintenance of the health of our skin and body.
How did I get a microbiome?
Initially, from your mom.
Recent research indicate that the beginning of your microbiome is shaped during your time as a fetus via the placenta. At first, we absorb microbes through our mother’s birth canal and anus when we’re born, as well through skin contact and breast milk.
From birth, the diversity and composition of the microbiome evolves with contact and interaction with the environment; when we’re with other people – or animals, when we eat or when we’re outside in nature.
Our microbiome consists of living organisms and is therefore always changing. Significantly changing the microbiome permanently is however difficult. Research indicates that our microbiome is shaped during the first few years of our lives, meaning that your microbiome as a 3-year-old will likely be very similar to your microbiome today. The microbiome is however still somewhat delicate and the balance can easily be interrupted so that proportions change and can allow pathogens to outcompete the good bacteria. On the skin, too much washing and cleansing and excessive use of different products can lead to imbalance.
What are bacteria actually doing in my body?
They are working for you.
There are few functions in your body in which bacteria is not involved in one way or the other. Either directly, through their metabolites (compounds produced by bacteria), or as part of a pathway (series of chemical reactions in the body)
Below illustration shows the pathways of one of our bacteria (LB244R®). You don’t have to understand the image, but you should probably understand that the role of bacteria in the body is not quite simple.
Bacteria keeps the skin healthy.
Bacteria are essential to your skin’s health. Lactic acid bacteria, for example, contribute by maintaining an acidic environment (ph ~4.5), which prevents pathogens from colonizing on the skin which can lead to dry skin, eczema, pimples and acne. There are, however, still open questions in the scientific field about the exact role of many of the microorganisms on the skin. A hypothesis is that they are part of the “innate immune system”; a term used in regards to the part of the immune system that you receive from birth, which is constant throughout life.
We also know that many microorganisms produce ceramide which is an important part of the skin’s barrier function that helps contain the moisture of the skin. Furthermore, microorganisms have an antioxidant effect which inhibits aging-related processes caused by free radicals and oxidation – in other words wrinkles and pigmentation.
Bacteria keeps the vagina healthy.
The vaginal microbiome is characterized by relatively low diversity compared to elsewhere on the body. It consists primarily of lactobacilli (lactic acid bacteria), especially of the species Lactobacillus crispatus, which maintains the essential, acidic ph-balance (~4.5 – same as many types of wine 😊), thus inhibiting the growth of microorganisms that can cause intimate problems. Even though a high microbial diversity is typically considered an indicator of health, it is opposite in the vaginal microbiome. When the dominating lactobacilli is replaced by other microorganisms it will often be considered a sign of dysbiosis which causes itchiness, irritation, bad odor or elevated levels of discharge.
Despite the low diversity of the vaginal microbiome, the microbiome’s composition will vary significantly from person to person. There are still plenty of unknown variables as to why these variations exist and how they’ve come to be. They are however affected by things such as ethnicity, age, regional origin, and more.
What is a healthy microbiome?
A healthy microbiome is characterized by high diversity and balance.
A balanced microbiome with a high bacterial diversity is important for healthy skin and a healthy body. We live in a symbiotic relationship with our bacteria – we provide them food and shelter and they help us strengthen our immune system, protect against environmental stress, maintain the skin’s optimal acidity, produce important compounds and much more. All in all, they keep us healthy.
In modern society, we typically view skincare from a visual, cosmetic perspective but for the health of our body, it is essential to have strong fortifications – i.e. a balanced microbiome and barrier function – which amongst other things, prevent outside pathogens from penetrating the skin and harming the body.
Why is the diversity of our microbiome decreasing?
We live too clean, eat poorly and are increasingly exposed to chemicals and antibiotics.
In Western society, we have lost approximately 30% of our gut bacteria compared to people who are more are exposed to natural surroundings, diet, and lifestyles. Today, the scientific field is occupied trying to figure out the exact functions of these missing bacteria. In the microbiome, almost 70% consists of the same few bacteria strains whereas the remaining 30% are made up of around 900 strains. Research indicates that the diversity of the remaining 30% is highly important and these are the ones we are in the process of eradicating.
How do I get a healthy microbiome?
Live healthy, avoid harmful chemicals, and use probiotics.
Generally, a varied, fiber-rich diet and exercise in nature are decent ways of maintaining a balanced microbiome. The most important however, is to stop negatively impacting the microbiome. Modern lifestyles lead to us living exceptionally clean and sterile and in daily contact with a range of unnecessary chemistry through skincare products, hair products, cleaning products, etc. Collectively all of this leads to imbalance in the microbiome. After you have washed your hands with generic soap, which kill bacteria, it takes several hours before your microbiome returns to normal. If this is repeated several times daily over a longer time-span, your microbiome won’t return to its natural balance, which in the long term can lead to problems; even chronically. This, of course, not to say you shouldn’t wash your hands, but to be mindful of why, when, with what and how often you expose your microbiome to this kind of disturbance.
An effective way of rebalancing and maintaining a healthy microbiome is using probiotics.