What is the gut microbiome?

In 2001, Nobel prize-winning Dr Joshua Lederberg offered the following definition of the gut microbiome:  “the totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract”. Uhhh...Say what now?  Don’t panic, let's break it down.  A “biome” is the term scientists use for a collection of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment they exist in. And “micro” just means that it’s invisible to the human eye. So essentially, our gut microbiome is like a jungle where various species of microorganisms hang out. Ok, so what’s the big deal? Well, these microorganisms, mainly comprising bacteria, are involved in functions critical to our health and wellbeing. Yes, our gut bacteria are actually involved in many other important processes that extend beyond our gut, including metabolism, body weight, immune regulation, as well as our brain functions and mood.  We’d say that makes them a prettttty big deal. How does the gut microbiome develop and what can we do to keep it healthy? Our gut microbiome begins to develop in very early life, right from when passing through the birth canal. Other early factors that influence the types of bacteria that will live and flourish in our guts include the genetics of our parents, feeding methods (breast or bottle fed) and even the presence of family pets. As we grow, many factors continue to determine the type and diversity of bacteria that live in our gut. Some are difficult to change like genetics or serious illness requiring heavy medication, but thankfully there are many factors which we can control and which all have a positive impact on the health of our gut microbiome. These include diet, stress mitigation, frequency of exercise, use of non-toxic household cleaning products and time spent outside. The above content is provided for informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice or diagnosis and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.