This is a contributor article by Dr Jeremy Lim, Chief Executive Officer and Co-founder of AMILI.
We live among millions of bacteria that have made themselves comfortable on, around, and inside of us. They greatly outnumber our human cells. One could say that it’s a bacterial world and we merely live in it.
What is our microbiome?
We call the bacteria, viruses, single-celled organisms, and fungi living within us our microbiome. Physically, our gut microbiome consists of large colonies of bacteria lining our intestines and can weigh up to 2 kilograms – heavier than our brain.
The gut microbiome and our bodies are reliant on each other to thrive and function. For example, our gut is unable to digest certain carbohydrates that we eat. These include the fibre found in wholegrain foods, fruits and vegetables. Hence, we rely on our gut microbiome to digest these carbohydrates for us. In exchange, they receive energy to survive.
Why the microbiome matters
Scientists have found that the microbiome plays a vital role in our digestion. It also aids in our overall health and wellness by affecting our brain health, liver health and even heart health.
For gut health, the microbiome plays a crucial role in maintaining the integrity of our gut barrier and in preventing gut inflammation – all vital for the proper functioning of our gastrointestinal tract.
Some of these bacteria communicate directly with our brain and form an important pillar of health – called the brain-gut axis. They produce chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that are essential for communication between brain cells. These neurotransmitters are first produced in the gut and are then transported to the brain or the nervous system. They are known to affect both our digestive system and brain health. Some bacteria in the microbiome are even known to regulate our sleep cycles and guard our immune system too.
The consequences of an imbalanced microbiome
The strength of the microbiome is determined by its diversity – the more diverse the bacterial groups, the better. When someone has an imbalance in the proportions of bacterial levels in their guts, they are said to have dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is shown to have implications on the permeability of the gut barrier, the gateway in our gut that allows nutrients to be absorbed and even alterations to brain health. The increased ease of absorption of amino acids, fatty acids or even toxins could trigger inflammations and imbalances in the gut and beyond. Hippocrates may have known when he said, “All disease begins in the gut”.
How to examine the state of our microbiome
With the latest advancements in science, it will come as no surprise that there are tests that can detect the good and bad bacteria in our guts. Such tests not only reveal insights into our health, but also provide tailored recommendations on food and probiotics that can help us lead healthier lives.