Microbiome…. have you heard the word? Five years ago I hadn’t but there was already a world of scientists exploring it and today there is even an entire medical journal dedicated to publishing research on it. So what’s a microbiome? It’s a grouping of bacteria that create their own ecosystem and have relationship with the human they live on. Of course animals have their own microbiomes too, but most of the research that I have followed is specific to humans. This relationship is symbiotic and our microbiome can be greatly responsible for our overall health. The more we learn about the microbiome, the more we understand that not all bacteria and even viruses are “bad”. We also know that there is no “one size fits all” in mircobiome health. Each individual will have their own perfect balance for their own bodies and climates.
I first became interested in the microbiome and how it relates to gut health and digestion. The explosion of probiotics on the market today is a refection of people discovering certain types of beneficial bacteria that live in healthy individuals. We’ve found out that a large portion of our own digestion is done by our microbiome, not “us”. In fact, there are about 10 times the amount of bacteria cells in our bodies compared to human cells and the type of diet we eat (vegan vs paleo) will result in a very different profile of bacteria in our stomachs. They can adapt much faster than we can to changes in diet too making them crucial in allowing us to absorb vitamins and minerals.
The microbiome in our guts is important for digestion and our immune system but it’s not the only player in our health. We have a totally different microbiome on our skin. This one is also very important for our immune system and has been shown to have the ability to communicate with cells on the inside of our bodies. The microbiome on our skin acts as a first defense against “bad” viruses and bacteria. It also plays a role in helping keep skin conditions like eczema and acne at bay. We don’t know as much about the skin’s microbiome as we do on the gut. One thing that we have found is that there is a large difference in bacteria between right and left hands. We also know that there is a major difference in the amount of bacteria in western Americans compared to Amerindians in the Venezuelan Amazon (they have more diversity). We also know that armpits, forearms, hands, ears and feet will all have different microbiomes in the same person as different bacteria thrive in different environments. What we don’t know yet is the impact our body care products have on these microbiome although it is projected to be large and one of the major reasons for the differences in species of the amazonian cultures compared to the western cultures.
There has been a ton of progress and discovery made in the last 10 years in the microbiome world but we are still just scratching the surface. It’s be very interesting to see what’s continues to be unravelled in the next 20 years or even more! Already, there are people talking about specific interventions with specific strains of probiotics for different conditions from IBS to Rosacea to even anxiety. At the moment, we simply do not know enough for each of us to know and have access to what our own micorbiomes look like and what bacteria to re-populate for optimal skin and gut health.
So what do we do? Well, each of us can choose how to use and interpret this information but I would recommend being mindful of what you’re putting on and in your body and how it can potentially damage good bacteria.
- Weigh out when to use antibacterial soaps and internal products that claim to kill bacteria as these substances will not discriminate between good and bad bacteria (that includes oil of oregano).
- Even though probiotics can be amazing for some people, we have only identified a fraction of the strains that live on our bodies. There are specific probiotic blends out there for maternity, indigestion, children and more but your best bet is to also consume foods that will naturally help your good bacterial populations. Prebiotics like onions, raw garlic and dandelion help to set the stage for good bacteria to breed. Fermented foods like raw sauerkraut (found in the refrigeration section), kombucha and countertop fermented vegetables will help to introduce species into your gut or boost populations that are already there (these are considered natural probiotics).
- If you can, eat organic. Especially vegetables and fruits that are on the dirty dozen list. These fruits and veggies have the highest amount of pesticides which have been created to kill bigger insects and pests where crops are grown. I don’t have a research article that can prove that they will impact your gut microbiome but my intuition and deductive reasoning suggests that it has the capability of killing off beneficial bacteria in your body.
- Check the ingredients in your skin care products, household cleaners and make-up. The closer to natural you can find, the less likely it will interfere negatively with your skin microbiome. That being said, even natural products can contain pretty strong anti-bacterial substances. This is one of the reasons why we use low dilutions of essential oils and no alcohol in our products.
- Don’t worry about it too much. The amount of information out there right now that says that we live in a scary world where everything we eat and use is killing us can be very overwhelming. Take it one step at a time and every year try to work on one piece of your health. That can be as simple as drinking kombucha instead of pop… most of the time. Keeping your stress at bay can do wonders for your health on it’s own.
If you are looking for more natural beauty care products, local handmade companies like ours are a great way to go. If you have questions, you can always ask and we will do our best to answer them. In the meantime, appreciate your bugs!
Jay and Rae
Information on the skin microbiome for this article was found in the following online articles.