An average-sized male body houses more microbial cells than human cells. So, are we human, or are we microbe?
Your body is home to trillions of bacteria, yeast and virus cells. In fact, there are more of these ‘microbial’ cells than human cells inside each and every one of us. Most of your microbes live in your gastrointestinal tract, also known as your gut.
But if the thought of trillions of bacteria residing in your gut makes you feel queasy, don’t panic – your body actually depends on these microbes to function properly and keep healthy.
Why are there microbes in my body?
The microbes in your body play a key role in maintaining and enhancing your overall health and wellbeing.
Researchers call our relationship with our microbes ‘symbiotic’. We can’t exist without our microbes, yet these trillions of cells need us just as much as we need them, too.
The bacterial cells are involved in vital bodily functions, such as:
- Digesting food – breaking down the food you eat and absorbing nutrients
- Producing essential vitamins – to help your body function at its best
- Regulating and supporting your immune system – keeping you healthy and strong
- Protecting against disease-causing microbes – fighting off the ‘bad’ bacteria that makes you unwell
Are my microbes the same as everyone else’s?
Just like human cells, microbes are controlled by their genetic makeup. And, just as no two humans are the same, no two ‘microbiomes’ – the scientific term for the genes in your trillions of microbes – are the same.
Your microbiome is as individual as you are – and, it begins to develop as soon as you’re born.
As you come into contact with new people and foods, your microbiome flourishes and adapts. Even from age one, the microbial population in your body is already much more diverse than it was when you were born.
What’s more, as researchers learn more about gut microbes, they’re discovering that food choices influence the structure of the microbiome – which, in turn, influences your overall health. New research suggests certain foods can change the type of bacteria in the microbiome.
Other fun facts about the microbiome
With an increasing amount of research focused on health and disease prevention through changing our gut microbiome, scientists are teaching us a lot of fascinating insights about the little critters that live inside each and every one of us.
Here are some other fun facts about your gut:
- All your microbes combined weigh as much as your brain – about 1,300-1,400g or three pounds
- Developing babies are sealed off from their mothers’ microbes – and become exposed to them during birth
- The microbiome is always changing and shifting – with key shifts occurring during pregnancy, adolescence, and with extreme diet changes
- Around 90% of your body’s serotonin is actually made in the gut – and, more and more research is exploring how gut health and behaviour are linked
- Most of your immune cells are located in your digestive tract – signalling the importance of gut health and immunity for maintaining good health