What Is It?
Did you know your body is home to trillions of tiny organisms called microbes? No worries — those “bugs” are supposed to be there! Together, they make up your microbiome. It’s all over your body but mainly in your gut. Your microbiome is closely tied to your health in ways you might not expect. And researchers are studying how it might improve health from head to toe.
Your gut and your brain talk back and forth to each other, connecting through millions of nerve cells. Scientists have linked certain changes in the gut microbiome to stress, depression, and anxiety.
Inflammatory bowel disease is a group of conditions that cause your intestines to become inflamed. They include Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The way your gut microbes affect the cells that line your intestines may play a role in these diseases. Certain types of bacteria may irritate the intestines. Some people with Crohn’s disease have a gene glitch that lets gut bacteria enter the intestine’s walls. This can trigger inflammation.
Scientists are looking for ways to improve the microbiome to help people avoid certain diseases or respond to treatments better. But some medicines can harm it. One round of antibiotics can change your microbiome for up to a year. (Antibiotics don’t just kill the bacteria that make you sick. They also kill your helpful gut bacteria.) And a study of more than 1,000 drugs showed that 1 in 4 affected bacteria growth. These included blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes medications.
Simple daily habits make a difference. What you eat can change the microbes that live in your body. High-fiber foods (such as veggies, whole grains, and fruit) feed the helpful bacteria in your colon. They also discourage the growth of some harmful ones. Probiotic foods, such as yogurt and pickled vegetables, also deliver helpful bacteria to your gut. Getting enough sleep, easing stress, and exercising may also improve your microbiome.