How Does Your Gut Impact Your Health?

August 11, 2016 Brigham and Women's Hospital

Beautiful vector illustration of bacterial flora in human internal organs. Abstract medicine concept. Useful for poster, indographics, placard, leaflet, brochure, print, book and ad graphic design.

Microorganisms in the gut produce important nutrients that are essential for your health.

Believe it or not, the bacteria and organisms living in your gut (constituting most of the human microbiome) affect your health more than you may think.

“The microbiome has as much influence on health and disease as our genomes and other environmental exposures,” said Dr. Lynn Bry, Director of the Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center in the Department of Pathology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH).

Microbes (microorganisms) in the gut, for example, produce important nutrients. These include Vitamin K, which provides appropriate clotting of the blood, and B vitamins (such as Vitamin B6 and Vitamin B12) that are essential for a healthy brain and production of blood cells. They are also essential in maturing the immune system, gut, and other tissues.

Diet has major effects upon microbial communities. Changes in diet, including sudden changes in carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake, can rapidly alter the composition of the microbes in the gut and also impact what they do. Other factors that affect microbiota include antibiotic exposures and even factors such as exercise and sleep.

Understanding of this emerging field continues to grow. Researchers at BWH, for example, are studying how antibiotic exposure early in life can impact susceptibility to diseases, including food allergies, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disease. They also are looking at how the microbiota interacts with infectious agents and impacts development of autoimmune diseases and cancer. Dr. Bry’s research focuses on functional effects of our colonizing microbes in promoting or preventing disease. She has developed novel human microbial communities for therapeutic use in food allergy and other diseases.

“We remain at the forefront of microbiome research, pushing our basic understanding of these complex ecosystems and learning how to use the microbiome clinically,” said Dr. Bry.

View this video with Dr. Bry to learn more about the human microbiome.

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-Jessica F.

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