Most microbes are actually good for our bodies and keep us healthy. They help teach our immune system which bugs are bad as well as which bugs are good and don’t pose any threat. As adults, microbes are our first line of defense. They protect our health by fighting off germs that try to invade our bodies, and microbes can even release their own antibiotics.
Microbes are complex and diverse, and live all over our bodies. The biggest microbial habitat is in the gut, where microbes fight off infections, boost our immune system, signal cells, and help regulate our metabolism, including how much energy we burn, and how much fat we store.
When our microbes are not functioning properly due to foods we eat or antibiotics we take, we can end up with diseases such as colon cancer and colitis, and possibly diabetes, and obesity. Taking probiotics, which are good microbes, as well as prebiotics, which are foods that nourish the good microbes, may help prevent and treat diseases.
According to Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project, dietary fiber serves as a food for many bacteria that live in our guts and may have a positive effect on our microbiome. Too little fiber could starve the bacteria we want around. When that happens, they eat the mucus lining of our large intestine. According to microbiome researcher Rob Knight of Colorado University, when we keep our bacteria well fed, they give off nutrients that nourish the cells that line our guts.
Dietary sources of fiber include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, and seeds. Plant-based dietary sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) and sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).
Microbiome research is very new and we have a lot to learn about what our microbes are doing. It’s clear, however, that all these tiny microorganisms all over our bodies are essential to our health and happiness.