The microbiome refers to the colonies of bacteria, fungi, viruses, or archaea (single-celled organisms) living in an environment. It may also be considered as a genetic pool of these living species thriving in a certain area. You most commonly hear about the microbiome of the gut and digestive system, but you have friendly microbes helping you on your skin, in your mouth, in your respiratory tract, in your eyes, and more.
The microbes in your digestive system are highly diverse and densely colonized, with most of the microbiome concentrated in the colon of the gastrointestinal tract. This microbial flora has a close connection to the well-being and health of an individual.
Before birth, the fetus acquires the gut microbiome from the mother as well as the internal environment. Within two years after birth, the child develops a complex and mature gut microbiome similar to that of an adult.
Gut Microbiome Alteration
The gut flora may undergo compositional changes under the following conditions:
- Antibiotic consumption
- Use of prebiotics or probiotics
- Use of synbiotics (combination prebiotics and probiotics)
- Use of pharma-biotics
Role of the Gut Microbiome
- Kills harmful pathogens and eliminates foreign body elements
- Offers an enteric barrier against harmful agents
- Boosts immunity
- Aids in the digestive process
- Releases enzymes for the breakdown of complex carbohydrates
- Participates in the absorption of minerals
- Synthesizes vitamins such as biotin and folate
- Assists in metabolizing drugs and medicines
- Establishes communication with the central nervous system (gut-brain axis)
Disorders Related to the Gut Microbiome
Even though these colonies of microorganisms are essential for the well-being of an individual, their overgrowth might prove to be harmful. Sometimes, they excrete certain metabolites that may lead to the onset of various diseases.
Diseases Arising from the Gut Microbiome
- Auto-immune diseases (e.g., Type 1 diabetes mellitus)
- Allergies or inflammatory disorders
- Cirrhosis (development of scar tissue) of the liver
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver
- Stomach ulcers or bowel perforation