What is a Microbiome and Why it is Essential for Gut Health

by Raychel Agramon, RN, MPM, February 28, 2020

what is a microbiome

What is a microbiome? It is defined as a group of microorganisms – bacteria, fungi, and viruses – that live in a certain system. Microbiomes are present in the soil, the seas, and even the atmosphere – helping provide the oxygen and nutrition that we need. These organisms, in fact, are present in the human body as well. 

Learning this, your first reaction might be “What??? Bugs in my body?” 

YES. There are microbes in your body. And there are trillions of them, they even outnumber your cells ten to one. In fact, they weigh as much as five pounds, according to the Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health

But there’s no need to panic, really. Microbiomes do you more harm than good – especially when it comes to gut and skin health.

what is a microbiome

Where are these Microbiomes Located?

These minute communities are found virtually everywhere in the body. They live on the linings of the nose, mouth, and throat – all the way to the gut. In women, they can be found inside the vagina as well.

A huge quantity also lives on the skin – they thrive in your underarm, groin, butt, heel – even between your fingers and toes. 

Microbiome populations differ per location in the body, as it can differ per person. Some of the strains that live in your body include the Actinobacteriae, Bacteroidetes, Cyanobacteria, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria.

Where do I Get My Microbiomes? 

We get our first microbiomes upon birth – well, at least those who were born via vaginal delivery. The journey from the womb through the microbiome-rich vagina gives the baby its first dose of skin microbiome. 

According to researchers from the University of Florida, this lack of vaginally-sourced bacteria may be the reason why Caesarean-born babies are more prone to allergic and immunological disorders, even obesity. It is important to note, however, that although this is the case, ‘seeding’ Caesarean babies with vaginal bacteria should not be done. 

Caesarean mothers need not fret though, as the baby’s gut microbiome develops right thereafter. Such can be influenced by milk intake, the environment, and other factors.  While this is stabilized at an early age, your gut microbiome can change depending on your current diet, disease, and medication intake. Heck, even stress can modify your gut or skin flora. 

what is a microbiome





Why are Microbiomes Important for Gut Health? 

The gut microbiome is proof that “great things come in small packages.” What is a microbiome? These microorganisms help improve the absorption of vitamins and minerals in the body. They also make byproducts that are essential for digestive health by providing energy to the many gut cells. By ensuring good gut function, the healthy microbiome diet can help boost digestive immunity and prevent infections as well. 

When the gut microbiome is disturbed, dysbiosis can take place. This is defined in the book “Adult Short Bowel Syndrome" as a disruption in the microbial community, which affects the diversity of the microbiome. The result? A decrease in the numbers of beneficial gut bacteria.

Expectedly, gut dysbiosis can lead to a variety of digestive disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease, gastritis, and peptic ulcers. While this is already alarming, gut dysbiosis can affect more than just the gastrointestinal tract. Ma and Li have linked the upset of gut flora to the development of several metabolic diseases, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Diabetes Mellitus type 2, and obesity. It is implicated in heart disease as well. 

Why are Microbiomes Vital for Clean and Clear Skin? 

The skin, which measures anywhere from 1.5 to 2 square meters, is home to multitudes of microbiomes. Their growth is affected by various factors, such as:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Occupation
  • Hygiene practices 
  • Current climate and geographical location
  • Previous exposure to irritants 
  • Presence of medical conditions such as diabetes. 

Apart from being the body's first line of defense against harmful invaders, the skin serves as a breeding ground for bacteria, viruses, and fungi – even mites. Most of them are harmless, in fact, they even help defend the body from disease-causing germs.

 According to scientists from the National Institutes of Health, the skin microbiome can help enhance immune response, stop the growth of harmful microbes, and prevent skin inflammation. Like the gut, when the balance is disturbed (as is the case of dysbiosis), skin disorders can develop. 

One such example is acne. As stated by researchers from the University of California – Los Angeles, acne can result from a disturbance in the presence of the Propionibacterium acnes and Malassezia species on the skin. These are commensal bacteria – meaning that they are naturally present in the skin. But when a disturbance takes place – these microbes can trigger increased oil production and skin inflammation – two factors that contribute highly to acne development. 

How do I Take Care of my Microbiomes?

Given the many benefits of the gut and skin microbiomes to over-all health, you must take good care of your body's microorganisms. A good way to do so is to consume prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are fibrous food sources for probiotics, which are bacteria that are beneficial to the body.

A good thing about prebiotics and probiotics is that they are available in most food sources. Prebiotics are present in banana, garlic, onion, leek, asparagus, Chicory root, and Dandelion greens, to name a few. Probiotics, on the other hand, can be sourced from fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, yogurt, and kombucha, among many others.

These microbiome boosters are also available as supplements. Another option is to take a combination of prebiotics and probiotics – such is called a synbiotic. This follows the concept of synergy – effects are expected to be better when two beneficial products are taken together, instead of just one. 

what is a microbiome

The Takeaway

What is a microbiome? Microbiomes exist in several parts of the body. They bring about many beneficial effects, especially to the gut and the skin. A balanced gut flora can help boost digestive health and prevent infections, while an intact skin microbiome can help promote clean and clear skin. When any of these microbiomes are disturbed, diseases might develop. With that being said, it is essential to maintain the balance of the gut and skin flora by taking prebiotics, probiotics, or synbiotics, which is a combination of both.