Microbiome is the combined genetic material of the microorganisms in a particular environment. In the case of humans, the environment refers to our own body, or our gut. The human body contains trillions of microorganisms — outnumbering human cells by 10 to 1. These microbes that inhabit the human body are both good and bad. Apart from Bacteria, there are fungi, viruses and archaea. Despite their small size, they together provide vital functions of the human body essential for our survival.
There is a constant state of war in your body between these: viruses attacking bacteria, bad bacteria fighting good bacteria and so on. The collection of these are known as your microbiota, and your microbiome is all the genes that your microbiome contains.
There are also bad microbes that are only bad in some circumstances, there are pathogens and plenty more variants. Some of the good ones help us break things down such as sugar, whilst others compromise our immune system or provide nutrients to our cells. There are even some studies looking at how bad bacteria can pick on some good bacteria and turn them into a bad one – just like a mob.
So, why is all of this important?
We are absolutely co-dependent on our microbes. Some philosophers will go as far to say we’re not entirely human, as we both dependent on and driven by microorganisms (to some extent). Furthermore, part of our DNA is a descendant from bacteria.
Our microbiome has been heavily linked to a ton of diseases and health conditions. They have a strong influence over us, and can cause a significant amount of problems. Some recent popular studies have been on germ-free mice – they have explored the impact that introducing certain microbes have in a sterile environment. The results? Certainly, microbes can lead to differences in mood and obesity within mice.
What can microbiome home test kits tell me?
Your microbiome can be crucial in how well you absorb nutrients, break down certain foods and so on. If we take an extract from smartDNA, one of the leading microbiome test kits on the market, as an example – we can find the following about our body:
- How your microbiome sample compares to the population?
- The diversity levels in your microbiome sample, which is a key indicator of health.
- A Dysbiosis Compass which maps imbalance between bacteria type
- The ratio of microbiome groups that correlate with obesity
- An estimate of how old your gut microbiome is. This means comparing the gut age relative to your actual age.
- Dietary profiling of your gut microbiome – how dietary intake affects your microbiome
What value can we get from it?
Knowing that your microbiome can affect your mental health and obesity levels[2>], having an in depth profile could be enlightening. Finding out what you’re more predisposed to and such can help make changes to your diet and food intake, and be a wakeup call if your guy health is aged much worse than you real age.
At the end of the day, it’s only information. It won’t change anything – but it gives you a clear direction of where you’re going, so you can change if you want to. You may discover food intolerances as a result, or that you’re not consuming enough probiotics.
A key way to improve your microbiome health, for many of us, is through probiotics which can be found particularly in fermented vegetables (i.e. kimchi).
How does this compare to regular DNA test kits?
Regular DNA test kits were aimed at assessing your genes, which could determine your future health. However, these have come under a lot of scrutiny. DNA test kits have shown weak correlations from limited sample sizes, and it led many people to panic unnecessarily about being more likely to get certain health conditions.
The key reason why microbiome testing appears to be ahead is that it is current. It takes a sample of your current microbiome, which can tell you things in the here and now – not future potential risks, which can lead to paranoia.
Instead, you can be given enough information to make real changes to your diet, and experiment with how you feel after. The potential for microbiome testing is arguably greater – much of our current decisions, moods, thoughts and health is determined by our microbiome.
It’s also determined by our genes too, sure, but we can’t change our genes. We can change our diet, though. The potential is massive – it’s possible that in the future, results will be accurate enough to give people step-by-step dietary advice that could help relieve them (to an extent) of depression, obesity or anxiety. That’s what the aim is, although there will always be other variables difficult to pinpoint.
There are some limitations of microbiome testing. The biggest one being that it requires a rice-sized sample of your stool. Well, that may be a drawback in and of itself for most, but more importantly this small sample isn’t entirely representative of your 25 feet long intestines. So when getting your results, take them with a pinch of salt (not too much, salt isn’t very good for your gut health) and know that it may not be entirely representative. However, the results can still provide you with a good indication of where you gut health is, as opposed to concrete evidence.
Finding the best microbiome kit is not easy, but using online reviews as a pointer of quality is always a good way to go. When you’re browsing for the basic microbiome testing kit, they are usually called “smartgut” – which is handy to know and makes it easier to compare that way.
References: 1. NIH Human Microbiome Project defines normal bacterial makeup of the. (2015, August 31). Retrieved December 2, 2019, from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-human-microbiome-project-defines-normal-bacterial-makeup-body Davis, N. (2018, November 10). The human microbiome: why our microbes could be key to our health. Retrieved December 2, 2019, from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/mar/26/the-human-microbiome-why-our-microbes-could-be-key-to-our-health