There are three overall key components to a healthy microbiome:
Diversity is about having many different varieties of a species of bacteria in your gut. This give us a variety of workers that can step in to complete any task needed in case any particular species gets wiped out.
You can increase your diversity through exposure to new microbes and by feeding your microbiome. This includes being discerning with the use of antibiotics and antibacterials taking probiotics and eating a varied diet.
Bacterial diversity is key to gut health.
Number two is richness, richness refers to how many bacteria genes you have, which is a result of how well the bacteria colonize or make a home in your gut. If diversity represents quality, richness represents quantity. Most organisms come into the body with food and pass right through. The ability of a species to colonize depends on its skill in finding and utilizing nutrients and out competing the existing bacteria in your gut. Fermented foods and fiber are great foods to build up bacterial richness. The more you expose yourself to the bacteria in these foods the more likely they’ll be to take up residence in your gut.
Diversity and richness lead to resiliency which is number three. Resilience is your microbiomes ability to adapt and recover from any given stress. Resilience can be measured in a few ways. First its most commonly looked at as the amount of times a community can return to equilibrium following a trauma or the amount of hits a community can take and still recover. Eventually after enough drama you’ll pass a threshold and your microbiome can no longer return to the state it was in before, it has adapted.
One of the most extreme examples of this is Clostridium difficile, an infection that happens in the hospital when patients are given rounds of antibiotics, because many of the good bacteria have been wiped out, Cedith is able to run rampant and take over the whole microbiome.
We still lack clarity about what defines a healthy microbiome but we do know that diversity and richness create resiliency. Again, we face the chicken and egg question, does a disturbed microbiota reflect unhealthy individuals or does this state cause individuals to become unhealthy? As research continues to unfold the key is to explore ways to increase exposure to good bacteria while at the same time avoiding pathogenic bacteria or triggers.
Many pathogens live within us peacefully and even provide useful functions. It’s only when the balance is disturbed that dysfunction is soon to follow. Regardless the microbiome provides a mirror for our health, perhaps a close-up mirror that we may have otherwise overlooked. And, even more significantly it may provide a mirror for the state of our external environment.
Next week we will get into Probiotics 101