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What Don’t You Know About the 100 Trillion Microbes in Your Body

The human body hosts over 100 trillion microbes, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and viruses. This is know as the microbiome. Interestingly, it wasn’t until the late 1990’s that we began to truly understand them and their role in our overall health.

These microbes outnumber human cells 10 to 1. They inhabit primarily in the stomach and gastrointestinal tract (GI tract), but also exist in our mouth, airway, skin and nearly every other part of our body. They are indispensable to human life and without their presence, we would cease to exist.

The microbiome is still relatively new in the science community and research into the intricacies of it is ongoing. As part of the expanding body of work, we have discover that the composition of everyone’s microbiome is completely unique, shaped by a multitude of factors;

    • Diet
    • Exercise
    • Geographic location
    • Genetics
    • Hormonal changes
    • Medication use
    • Presence of disease
    • Sleep
    • Stress
    • Aging
    • And more…

The bacteria within our GI tract and body are essential for human development, immunity, and nutrition. We now know that the microbiome:

  • Produces essential vitamins including B vitamins, B12, thiamine, riboflavin and Vitamin K;
  • Helps us digest food, ensuring we benefit from all the nutrients and calories we consume;
  • Protects the body’s organs from by maintaining mucosal linings;
  • Suppresses or eliminates disruptive or harmful bacteria;
  • Supports the central nervous system by refining nutrients necessary for its function;
  • Promotes(such as lymphoid tissues) necessary for our immune system to function; and
  • Secretes neurotransmitters throughout the gastrointestinal system.

The Microbiome’s impact on autoimmune disorders

We know genetics play a key factor in the development of autoimmune disorders and it is often environmental triggers that contribute to their activation. New evidence suggests that the microbiome’s function may be involved in the activation and progression of these disorders. When there is a disequilibrium or imbalance of the microbiota and your natural microflora (what lives in you naturally) combined with an autoimmune condition, a reaction can occur.

Auto-immune disorders that are shown to have a connected relationship with the microbiome include (but are not limited to):

    • Rheumatoid arthritis
    • Multiple sclerosis
    • Celiac disease
    • Type I diabetes
    • Inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn’s disease or Ulcerative colitis
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus
    • Obesity
    • COVID -19
    • Hypertension
    • Antiphospholipid syndrome
    • Sjögren’s syndrome

What is has been difficult to determine so far, is when a change in the microbiome is observed in a disease state, did that change contributed to the disease state, or result from it? The big scientific questions is whether it is possible to slow progression or put these conditions in “remission” by addressing the imbalance of the microbiome.


Research is still emerging

As evidence-based practitioners, it is exciting to see new information, but it also reminds us to balance the three pillars of knowledge when providing care. These are our own clinical knowledge and experience, peer-reviewed research, and our patient’s perspective and preferences. We still have many unanswered questions. We have seen that boosting healthy bacteria through probiotics is useful when patients are taking antibiotics, but the extent to which probiotics improve overall health (versus alleviating discomfort in the gut), is still being explored by scientists and researchers.

At Harrison Healthcare, your care team personalizes care and treatment for digestive health because there are so many factors involved. There is no one-size-fits-all probiotic for every condition. We encourage healthy diets with a variety of foods to keep the balance of 100 trillion microbes in check. We guide patients to try things that make them feel better, and have a healthy skepticism about health supplements that tout a vague promise of microbiome “enhancement” when the science is still evolving.


Talk to your nurse practitioner, physician, registered dietitian if digestive health and an autoimmune condition is top of mind, and we will explore how to keep your microbiome healthy and working well for you.


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We would like to acknowledge with gratitude that we operate on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations in Vancouver, and of the Blackfoot Confederacy (Siksika, Kainai, Piikani), the Tsuut’ina, the Mountain Nakoda Nations, and the Métis Nation (Region 3) in Calgary. With appreciation, we recognize that these lands have been stewarded by them since time immemorial.

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