The human microbiome

By Narena Nerahoo ’24 and Jenna Bruckman ’24

The human microbiome is a collection of all the microorganisms that live within the human body. We have microorganisms that live in our gut, on our skin, and all over our body. What do these microbes do? While many of us know microorganisms as the cause of illness, the majority of microbes on and in the human body are actually there to support you. They help you digest food, fight off infection, and maintain your reproductive health. This is the “good bacteria” you often hear about. The “bad bacteria” we are more familiar with are the disease-causing bacteria that cause inflammation and infection when given the opportunity. Despite there being significantly more good bacteria in our bodies than bad bacteria, there are instances in which our gut may not have enough good bacteria. This could cause bacterial overgrowth syndrome, which may lead to abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea.

We play a much larger role in the maintenance of our microbiome than you may think. The foods you eat largely control the state of your gut microbiome. To support a healthy gut microbiome you should focus on probiotics, fermented foods, high-fiber foods, and proper hydration. Highly processed, sugary foods can reduce the amount of good bacteria in your gut and can lead to inflammation. A healthy microbiome can reduce the risk for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer.

Some foods that can support a healthy gut microbiome include: yogurt, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, fruits, vegetables, oats, and soybeans. You also can take probiotics supplements in the form of a pill, which is highly recommended if you are currently taking a course of antibiotics. That being said, antibiotic use is something that needs to be monitored very carefully as the overuse of antibiotics can cause an imbalance in your gut. Antibiotics should only be taken when needed, and you should always finish your entire course of pills even if you start feeling better. 

Your gut microbiome also plays a crucial role in your mental health. 

“Disturbances in the gut microbiome can have significant consequences for our physical and emotional well-being,” Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein says. “Many studies have shown that an imbalance can lead to anxiety, depression, impaired immunity, digestive problems, systemic inflammation, and cancer. Maintaining a healthy microbiome by consuming foods that nourish our internal ecosystem is essential for good health.” 

Ninety percent of the serotonin in your body is produced in the gut, which ties it closely to diet, digestion, and metabolism. There is ongoing research to better understand how the gut is connected to the brain and could affect mental illness. There is also research to understand the metabolites and neurotransmitters produced by microbes, and how they would affect drug response.

For more information regarding what you can do to support a healthy microbiome, please feel free to reach out to:

  • Dr. Jeffery Goldstein and Bailey Health Center with any questions. Call 610-330-5001.
  • Bailey Health Center also provides information regarding a telehealth option. Pesto Health matches students with registered dietitian nutritionists, aims to increase student access to personalize nutrition counseling, and helps get the cost covered by insurance. MORE: (