Why are Microbiomes so important?
Updated: Mar 11
It's far from being a trendy mystery or a fact delegated to a hippie mentality: We are what we eat. Next-Level Knowledge though when you start searching around online about gut health--- microbiomes. It's a thing. A gut and health connexion thing. Here's some starter info...
My body isn’t a temple: it’s a continent.
The word “biome” means an interdependent system of plants and animals. Think “Circle of Life” from The Lion King. Usually, a biome is a big place, somewhere like Antarctica or the Mojave Dessert or the Google Campus or Chicago—somewhere that the flora and fauna become so ingrained in each other’s business that messing with any part of it can ripple across the whole system. The prefix “micro” means very, very small, like the amount of impressed we were when it turned out that Mars was also made of rock. A “microbiome” therefore is an itty-bitty version of a great big one.
Evidence mounts that gut bacteria can influence mood, prevent depression, but first let's start with what's what.
So I’m a microbiome—now what?
Our skin is just skin in the same way that the Amazon Rainforest is just a jungle. It hosts a complex biosphere of bacteria—some benign, some beneficial, some not so great. The biosphere of our skin is like any other ecological system. It exists harmoniously, until and unless something disrupts its harmony.
I find this idea fascinating. It’s a very science fiction sort of idea. The idea is that my body is the environment for a vast population of microbial life. Some of it doesn’t do much of anything and just lives there, but a lot of it is benign and actually benefits me. My body is the home of this microscopic life, and as such the microscopic life has a tendency to nurture and care for its home. Life that wants to continue to survive has a tendency to contribute to its environment’s wellbeing. Any life that tends towards the destruction of its environment. Its environment either rebels or decays, becoming inhospitable to the destructive life form either way, and thus shortening the longevity of that species in the biome where it lives.
I am a microbiome, and the microbial life living inside of me wants me to survive so that it can also survive, so the microbial life tries to help where it can. And that’s kind of cool.
I need to take care of the balance of my microbiome.
The other side is that I am a unique kind of biome: I’m a biome that can make my own decisions. Biomes exist in a tenuous, complex balance. The pieces involved need to work just right in order for the biome as a whole to continue in a healthy way.
My body isn’t exactly a temple: but it is a complex, self-sustaining system, consisting of millions of organisms and not just of me.
Which doesn’t mean I can’t have that truffle or glass of wine. It does mean that I should think about it before I laugh off terms like “alcohol poisoning” as a supposed feature of a good time.
It also means that I need to think about what I’m slathering onto my skin, because that effects the balance as well.
Different cultures have longer and shorter history with the bacteria in the human system. Many Asian cultures have been using strategic fermentation for generations to make foods rich in the prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics that our bodies use to maintain a healthy balance in the human biome and, by extension, in skin health. A holistic approach to skincare is becoming more common in Western cultures, which historically have tended to base skincare on topical substances—lotions and creams and makeup. We might see a widespread understanding of the big picture of skin health soon, but we have a lot of work to do still.
In order to increase the understanding of skincare as part of taking care of the whole person, we have a few things we need to work on.
One is the positioning of beauty and skin care products in the context of understanding taking care of the whole person. Our skin is the largest organ that makes up our bodies. We need to understand better how taking care of it fits into the overall upkeep of the Human Animal, which means bringing the understanding of the human microbiome into everyday conversations.
This will, hopefully, have the effect of changing the focus of skin care market from being purely focused on aesthetics and widen its focus to include overall health. For this to work, the demands of consumers will drive market needs, and that will drive the need to conduct even more research into microbiomes and how they work. It’s still a young science, although a robust one. Developments in the field have suggested that it may be possible to design cosmetics that have been tailored to an individual person, which would optimize their effectiveness.
If the research is done, and the science gets the support it needs, this could have far-reaching positive impacts on health in general. Hair care—oral products—generally everything to do with our health could be improved by this research. The microbiome of our bodies is there. That’s been proved. We now need to understand it.
(These claims are supported by an interesting study conducted by two researches that you can go look at.)
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