What is a microbiome?
When we talk about building a healthy microbiome, we’re usually referring to the gut. It is often forgotten that the microbiome is spread across our whole body. The term microbiome refers to the totality of all micro-organisms – such as bacteria, fungi and viruses – on and in our body. The microbiome consists of hundreds of various types of bacteria and other tiny little organisms.
Where microbiomes are found
Every body surface that comes into contact with the outside world is colonised with them. These tiny cells are mainly found in the gut and on the skin, but also on the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, nose and genitals. The number of bacteria we carry in and on us is greater than the number of the body's own cells – they’re simply much smaller and therefore invisible to our eyes. But even though they are invisible: they are of huge importance to our digestion and immune system.
Microbiome immune system
The micro-organisms in our gut not only help with digestion – they also keep pathogens at bay and fight off toxins. But not only in the gut: they combat germs across our whole skin, including mucous membranes such as that inside the mouth, thus keeping the oral flora in balance.
Microbiome gut flora
Most micro-organisms live in the gut: 100 trillion bacteria – or more than all the body’s cells. They help the body digest food. Until a few years ago, they were known as gut flora. Today, the common term is microbiome which simply means «tiniest living things».
Boosting the microbiome – here’s how
Eating fibre-rich foods is key
Vegetables like carrots, peppers, cabbage and fennel are rich in prebiotics. Vegetable protein sources like pulses, chickpeas, beans and lentils are even richer. Included on the list of berries most rich in fibre are raspberries and blueberries.
Prioritise foods with living bacteria cultures
Kimchi, for example, or other fermented vegetables like sauerkraut are widely recommended, as is yoghurt. How great the impact of such foods is remains to be seen. But since they don’t harm, they’re worth a try.
Limit the consumption of animal products
Eat meat and dairy products in moderation.
Other empty carbohydrates such as white bread and pasta also upset the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut. Just as damaging is alcohol, as are medications like antibiotics.
The value of a microbiome analysis?
Researchers have established that the gut microbiome in people with certain diseases differs from that of a healthy individual. This gives rise to the hope that in future, a stool analysis can be used to help detect diseases such as depression, allergies, multiple sclerosis and obesity at an early stage. By supplying concrete and personalised dietary recommendations, such an analysis may even be used to help treat the gut flora.
Microbiome analyses insufficiently specific to date
Microbiome analyses are already widely available. However, specialists advise against them, claiming that they’re too expensive and pointless. Why? Many providers offer to analyse the 16S-rRNA gene of the bacteria. The idea is to find out how many of the various bacteria are present in the stool in relation to each other. However, to be of real help to users, a detailed genetic analysis would be required. And even this says little, because the composition of a person’s stool changes too much and too quickly – meaning that several analyses would be required.