Revelations about the role of the human microbiome in our lives have begun to shake the foundations of medicine and nutrition
The great majority of the microbes live in the gut, particularly the large intestine, which serves as an anaerobic digestion chamber. Scientists are still in the early stages of exploring the gut microbiome, but a burgeoning body of research suggests that the makeup of this complex microbial ecosystem is closely linked with our immune function. Some researchers now suspect that, aside from protecting us from infection, one of the immune system’s jobs is to cultivate, or “farm,” the friendly microbes that we rely on to keep us healthy. This “farming” goes both ways, though. Our resident microbes seem to control aspects of our immune function in a way that suggests they are farming us, too.
Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind. The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain.