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How is gut microbiome formed?
Microorganisms are all around us and they are amongst the smallest living organisms known. These micro-organisms live even on our skin and within our bodies. Collectively, we call
them the human microbiota.
There are about 39 trillion microbial cells within us compared to 30 trillion human cells. And the majority of the bacteria found in the human body lives within our gut. These bacteria living within our gut are called the gut microbiome.
The first scientific evidence that micro-organisms are part of the normal human system emerged in the mid 1880s. Since then, more than 900 different species of micro-organisms have been identified to be living within our gut.
We are colonised by bacteria the moment we are born. These micro-organisms enter our body during the birth process and upon contact with our mother’s skin. Subsequently, different types of bacteria will enter our body from the breast milk and food and the environment we live in, forming our gut microbiome. As a result, each individual has his or her own gut microbiome, depending on their genes, diet, living environment and contact with other people or animals.
Due to the similarity in lifestyle and diet, people from proximal geographic locations tend to have similar gut microbiome composition. Asians would likely have more similar gut microbiomes to Asians than to Europeans or Americans. Hence, the good bacteria needed for Asians is different to that of a Westerner.
Many research are ongoing for a better understanding of how the human microbiota contributes to health and diseases. What we do know so far is that the Intestinal microbiome
- helps in the digestion of food
- produces important vitamins like b12 and k
- protects the intestinal walls from invasion by bad organisms and prevents infections
- and in recent research, the gut microbiome may even improve our immune system and improve our brain and mental functions
An imbalance of good and bad microbes in our gut is known as gut dysbiosis.
May lead to diseases such as
- Diabetes, asthma
- and even chronic gut inflammation among others.
Factors contributing to gut dysbiosis
Two key factors contributes to gut dysbiosis.
Firstly, over the last few decades, our diet has changed tremendously. There has been an increased intake of sugar, fat, processed food and MSG. These food tend to trigger the overgrowth of bad bacteria and suppress the variety and quantity of good bacteria.
The other very important factor would be antibiotics intake. Antibiotics kills bacteria within our body - the good ones and the bad ones. People who take a lot of antibiotics may get sick because the antibiotics destroy a lot of good bacteria in their bodies. A lack of good bacteria in our gut gives space and available food for the overgrowth of bad bacteria which may lead to various diseases
Some tips to promote good gut health
1) Eating food rich in fibre and whole grains like fruits, beans, legumes, wheats, oats, barley. This is also know as prebiotics.
2) Taking food rich in polyphenol like green tea, olive oil, dark chocolate.
2) Taking more fermented food like yogurt, kefir and suaerkraut
3) limit intake of sugar and artificial sweeteners
4) Taking probiotic supplements
5) Taking antibiotics only when necessary
By : Dr Chen Yiming
Family Physician, MBBS (Singapore), GDFM (NUS), GDFP Dermatology (NUS)