Our bodies house somewhere between 10 and 100 trillion microbes, most of which live in our guts. These microbes seem to contribute more than we ever thought our wellbeing and many of our body processes. The balance can be delicate, however; many of them are sensitive to the foods and chemicals we expose them to—and are therefore subject to imbalance.
Animals and microbes have likely survived in a unique relationship for hundreds of millions of years. The gut is an extreme environment, one that only certain types of microbes can flourish in but as a result, is able to help stave off things that are not beneficial while referencing microbes that have specifically evolved to benefit their host while ensuring their own survival. These symbiotic relationships actually do us a lot of good.
This is basically the definition of our "microbiome" as researchers call it. The microscopic guests are necessary for many of our vital functions, from proper nutrient absorption to stable mental health, so the symbiosis is pretty important on our end. Even a small upset to their balance might affect a person in huge ways.
Our individual microbiomes can vary dramatically depending on several different factors including our diets and our environment, along with other chemicals we voluntarily take in, are some of the biggies. Poor nutrition and antibiotic use are harmful to good gut health as well. But there's a lot written about these things all except for one: the environment.
We expose ourselves to hundreds of different chemicals regularly, many of which, without us even realizing it, may have serious impacts on our bodies and our microbiome. Researchers have been examining the effects of certain environmental contaminants including bisphenols, phthalates, heavy metals, pesticides and persistent organic pollutants, looking specifically at changes they might cause in the gut. They published their findings in Toxicological Sciences.
The researchers found these chemicals, many of which are manufacturing byproducts of plastic and packaging production, may change the gut’s microbial makeup. Some even affect the microbes’ genetic expression, altering the way they function. While it may sound huge and outside the body, the impact on our daily lives can be massive, leading to problems with metabolism, immune function and nervous system health.
It’s easy to take the delicate balance that exists in each of us for granted, especially when the repercussions can feel so far removed. These chemicals are abundant in our food and water supplies, so countless people could be suffering the effects without any idea as to why they’re so unwell. Here are some things to consider cleaning up in your environment:
Pollutants are everywhere, and they may affect each of us on a molecular level, possibly starting with our gut health. We now know that these chemicals are capable of wreaking havoc on the microbes we depend on for proper functioning, often with devastating results. You may not be able to clean up the toxic waste site near your town but you can take control of your immediate environment and do your best to create a sanctuary for your microbiome from within by feeding them well with pro- and prebiotics and a healthy diet.
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