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5 things to know about your body’s microbes

Illustrated representation of a microbiome.

Dec. 19, 2022—Believe it or not, a universe of tiny organisms lives inside your body. These living things, so small you'd need a microscope to see them, are called microbes. They play a pretty big role in your health.

Your body's microbes include bacteria, viruses and fungi. In other words, they're germs that are often beneficial. Each part of your body—including your skin, eyes, mouth, nose and digestive tract—has its own community of microbes. These communities are called microbiomes.

Here are a few facts you should know about the body's microbes and how they could affect your health. They're courtesy of the National Institutes of Health and other experts.

1. Your body has as many microbes as cells. Trillions of microbes live in your gut alone. All the other areas of your body have microbiomes too.

2. They're helpful. Your microbes help with some complex processes in your body, like digestion and metabolism (how food is converted to energy).

3. They help prevent infections too. One way your microbes do this is by crowding out harmful bacteria that can make us sick. Beneficial microbes take up space that these disease-causing germs would otherwise occupy.

4. Microbiomes can become unbalanced. Diet, stress, chemicals and medicines are some things that may upset the balance of helpful and harmful microbes in the body. For example, when we take antibiotics to treat infections caused by bacteria, some beneficial bacteria also are destroyed. This is one reason why proper antibiotic use is important. Having an unhealthy diet (such as one high in processed carbohydrates and sugar) may also cause people to have too much of one kind of bacteria and not enough of another.

5. An unbalanced microbiome may contribute to diseases and infections. Treatment-resistant bacterial infections, diabetes, heart disease, Parkinson's disease, obesity, allergies and irritable bowel disease are some of the conditions that may be linked to having an unhealthy microbiome.

How to keep your microbes happy: Fiber up!

Eating a well-balanced diet rich in plant fiber is one of the best ways to keep your gut microbiome healthy. Research suggests that fiber-rich diets change the balance of microbes in the gut in ways that may help keep us healthy. Check out this infographic to learn about some delicious ways to fit fiber into your diet.

Getting adequate exercise and sleep might benefit the gut as well, but experts don't know for sure yet.


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