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What Is Microbe and Why It Is Important?

What Is Microbe and Why It Is Important?

What do we mean about when we talk about “bugs,” and how important they are to our gut health. We know, you’ve probably researched this a ton already, because gut health is the most interesting topic of all. Right?

So let’s keep this short, sweet and simple.  

A microbe really is shorthand for “microscopic organisms” because scientists are lazy and don’t like having to retype two words 100 times when one will do.  Basically, it’s a living organism that is too small to be seen with the naked eye.  See, that was easy.

There are six major types of microbes:

  • Bacteria ← these are the things we always talk about at Jetson, are single-celled, and very prevalent everywhere (maybe even on Mars.)
  • Archaea
  • Fungi ← these are mushrooms, eventually 
  • Protozoa ← these sound like dinosaurs, but aren’t
  • Algae ← both stuff you find on the top of a pond and a viable source of protein in San Francisco
  • Viruses ← these, too, are often discussed here. They aren’t technically alive – they need a host to propagate. So yes, they’re like zombies, if that helps. 

How many microbes do we have in and on our body?

No one has really bothered to count (and can you imagine the poor intern that has that job?). Estimates range from 10x the number of human cells in our body (leading to clickbait headlines like “You are more alien than human!”) to about a 1:1 ratio. The Human Microbiome Project wrapped up a few years ago and the results were pretty interesting:

  • There are about 10000 different types of microbes living within our bodies
  • If you scraped all of the bacteria in your body together, they’d weigh between 3-5 pounds. (No mean feat considering they are all microscopic.)
  • People’s left and right hands have different microbe populations
  • Your digestive tract alone houses about 99% of your microbiome (the reason I keep harping on gut health!)

Help me sound smart about microbes

Sure – here are a few fun facts:

  1. You probably forgot this, but cheese, wine, sauerkraut, yogurt and vinegar are all products of microbial activity.  
  2. When women get pregnant, the body actually reduces the number of microbes in the vaginal canal in the days and weeks before childbirth. The theory since the child is coming from a sterile place, the body wants to make its entrance into the world less dramatic. Or because it knows that eventually Chad will blame you for failing his driver’s test in his teenage years and your body is trying to give you some plausible deniability.  
  3. You actually carry around many pathogenic microbes like e.coli and h.pylori – both of which can have super negative health effects, obviously. This speaks to the need to keep the GOOD bacteria in balance – so the bad guys don’t take hold and make you sick.  
  4. We’re born microbe-free – and we don’t fully develop our microbiome until around 2 ½  years old. There is some evidence that babies born via C-section are at a higher risk of allergies and obesity because they don’t pass through the birth canal and get some of the mom’s bacteria before popping out.
  5. Killing microbes with antibiotics is both necessary and risky. Necessary because sometimes you need to take care of bacterial infections. Risky because there is now evidence that antibiotics can contribute to asthma, obesity, and IBS.
  6. Microbes – particularly certain colonies (or lack thereof) in your body are being correlated with human diseases like cancer, autism, IBS, autoimmune diseases, depression – and many more. When you destroy the colonies in your gut, bad things will happen.  

There you have it – a crash course on microbiology in 600 words. You won’t likely be winning the Nobel prize anytime soon armed with this knowledge, but hopefully all this talk about WHY the gut microbiome is so important for our overall health is starting to make more sense.