By – Dr Shriram Raghavan
Senior Vice President, Jananom Pvt. Ltd
Vice President, Evolva Biotech
What are signature microbiomes in us?
Over the last 60 months there is a specific field that is garnering a lot of attention and that is often touted as a newest organ in our human body. About 12,000 papers have been published just in the last 60 months on this. Our human body is made of about 40 trillion cells but we have more than 3 fold microbiome than this. If our body were to be compared as a company, WE the human cells then become a minority share holder and the microbiome are the majority share holders. So what are these microbiome?
Of course bacteria but also fungi, and viruses as well. Yes you heard it well, about 7% of our genetic makeup is borrowed from viral genomes as well. But all of these are like an amazon jungle with enormous diversity as the key striking differentiating element.
This can be compared to a fingerprint that are unique to each human being and often referred to as the “SIGNATURE MICROBIOME”. Also even during one’s life time the composition of microbiome constantly changes, evolves and gives us the critical survival edge of adaptability. As natural selection dictates, its not the strongest that survives selection pressure, it’s the most adaptable that survives it.
Why should we bother?
As you heard it they are majority shareholders in our human body. That means a lot in terms of decision making and physiological functioning. At the risk of over simplification, let us imagine this. Microbes control 4 key information superhighways namely Gut-Brain axis (which we often call as gut feeling), gut-lung axis (on respiration), gut-endocrine axis, gut-immune axis on a daily basis. So these are together called as the QUAD-AXES or the golden quadrilateral in how information is passed. While the western thoughts have been largely anti-microbial and reductionist (mainly for reproducibility and standardization), oriental thoughts have always been looking at systems biology and diversity. If you at ancient Asian traditional medicine systems, this approach is clear and infact they have led the personalized pharmacogenomic approach in their own style. But then the question that arises next is what are the handle with us to control these microbiome?
What are the food ingredients for daily intake to influence microbiome?
When we eat we often forget about these microbiomes and try to satisfy ourselves. When we have our food, the components that are not digestible by we humans are passed onto these microbes in our gut. So now fibre gains a new definition here. Till date we have thought of this as just tools for bowel movement. Now the understanding emerges that they have MICROBIOTA ACCESSIBLE CARBOHDYRATES called MACs. There are two factors that are important here to support good gut microbiome with MACs – 1. The richness in content of MACS and 2. Diversity and variations in MACs. Why ? Because we have a lot of different microbes within us and varying members in each families. So based on this rationale, American gut project discovered that we need to eat 30 different fruits and vegetables each week. So this becomes challenging for us. But then people ask what’s wrong with on-market products. We need to look at 3 aspects: a. Probiotics – are often just one or two specific microbes which often disturbs the gut balance, b. Pre-biotics & fibres in market lack diversity as they are often derived from single source, c. Processed foods often remove all these precious MACs and that leads to lot of severe side effects.
What happens to our microbiome when we relocate to a different place?
This is an interesting and important question. Nature confers adaptability to us to adapt to various selection pressures of the local region. There is a recent study on second generation immigrants into USA and it was shown with evidence that once they migrate over time their microbiome changes – especially the rich diversity is lost and eventually they become like the local population and this increases their susceptibility to several life style disorders. Beside this, their food habits also fall in line with the local population and that in turn has adverse effects on their microbial population. Looking back may be this could be the reason why our ancestors had placed restrictions on us to cross the oceans because we are presently living in a tropical place with one of the richest biodiversity and microbial diversity both within us and outside.
What about C-section babies?
WHO study clearly indicated that C-section babies have 5 fold higher chances of being susceptible to life style disorders like obesity, diabetes etc. One of the reasons that recent research indicates is the lack of exposure to microbiomes in vaginal route and this is complicated later by deprivation of lack of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) that is available in breast feeding in a limited window and we move away from these, the cumulative impact gets manifested later in terms of shifting balance from good gut microbiomes to those which are less beneficial to us. Hence these babies would certainly need foods rich in MACs to counter the ill -effects. We are now exploring if we can devise methodologies to capture a GUT SELFIE to give a snapshot of microbiomes, and prescribe specific changes in habit and life style to shift the balance. But in the end we need to remember that ONE SINGLE ANTIBIOTIC can completely throw this entire carefully built choreography out of order and cause significant damage to us in the long term.
Final thoughts ?
1. Check if you are eating 30 different fruits and vegetables each week.
2. Maintain good sleep wake cycles and good daily bowel movements.
3. Visualize antibiotics like RAKSHAS / A demon that could kill all the good gut microbiome friends you have. Some of them are irreplaceable, and once lost, its gone forever.
So if we believe humans are evolved and intelligent, it places a humongous responsibility on us to make the right decisions, if we want to hold that title and designation.