We all know about DNA, about how it determines certain characteristics, decides our physical appearance and even contributes to our personality traits. But now it seems there is another contender playing a part in forming our identity and our entire life outlook - our microbiome.
The microbiome is the collection of all the genetic material in the millions of microorganisms that live on and in our bodies. Yep, we have millions and millions of them, including bacteria, fungi and viruses. But before you run off screaming for the shower, this unique collection of microorganisms is absolutely vital to your health reveal a lot about you while its at it. For starters, your microbiome can reveal whether you were born via cesarean section, whether you live in a city and how likely you are to become obese. In fact, each person's microbiome reveals so much about them that crime scene investigators are even using microbiome testing to identify suspects rather than finger prints - they're that precise.
So, it seemed apt to find out a bit more about my own microbiome with a little help from an at-home test from . Now, I'm going to cut straight to the point - the test involves providing a stool sample. That's a poo sample to those of you who have never had the pleasure of collecting one. Luckily, the kit comes with a scoop to aid the process of picking it up and putting a sample into the provided test tube. Once collected, all you do is seal the tube shut and pop the pre-packaged box in the post box. Yes, you literally put your own poo in the post - but with the best intentions.
A few weeks later, the results were in and online in my personal account. Firstly, they showed that my microbiome lacks a diverstity of bacteria, meaning it won't be able to provide as many benefits, or perform as many positive functions as a diverse microbiome. The results explained that this can be due to a recent course of antibiotics, which makes sense in my case, and that I should up my intake of a variety of foods like mushrooms, almonds, berries and yogurt to support the growth of various beneficial strains of bacteria.
Next up was my microbiome's ability to protect against various diseases, including type 2 diabetes, obesity and ulcerative colitis. Luckily, all my results showed a normal level of protection, with even a high level of protection against diabetes. Yas.
Another role of the microbiome is to produce vitamins, and can be a great supplement the nutrients we get from our diet. While my microbiome is fantastic at synthesizing Vitamin K, helping to promote good bone health, it's less good at producing all of the B vitamins, which in turn will effect my immune system, energy levels and mood. The solution? Up the intake of B vitamins through my diet and incorporate foods like avocados, nuts and cauliflower, and also to take probiotic supplements that include the bacterial strains bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
The test also reveals my microbiomes overall 'type', determined by testing people from all areas of the world. There are three types; Urban Citizen, Village Peasant and Indigene. Mine is Urban Citizen, which is common of the Western diet that is rich in protein but lacks bacterial diversity, and is also typical of a Western European microbiome.
All in all, I found the test fascinating, not just because I out about my microbiome but also to learn just how huge a part bacteria plays in my life - mood, weight, disease, mental health - and as a result, I've made some simple dietary changes that have me off to a happier and healthier start already.