The gut microbiome is an amazing world inhabited by bacteria and other microorganisms that play an important role in our health. However, despite all the discoveries made by researchers, there are many myths and misconceptions about the gut microbiome that can undermine progress and public confidence in this area of research.
Gut microbiome research is not a new field; it began as early as the late 19th century. But only recently have we begun to understand the connection between the gut and the mind, a gut-brain axis that works in both directions.
One common myth is that the human microbiome weighs 1-2 kilograms. However, British microbiologists Alan Walker and Lesley Hoyles believe that this figure is greatly exaggerated. Their estimate is based on the weight of human stool and colon contents, and they believe that the human microbiota likely weighs 500 g or less.
Another common myth is that 10 times more individual microbes live in the human body than its own cells. However, researchers have concluded that this ratio is likely closer to 1:1.
There is also a misconception that children “inherit” their microbiota from their mother at birth. Although some microorganisms are passed on directly at birth, studies show that few species remain with us throughout our lives. The microbiota is shaped by diet, antibiotics, genetics and the environment.
“Every adult ends up with a unique configuration of microbiota, even identical twins raised in the same family,” Walker and Hoyles note.
Despite these myths and misconceptions, however, the gut microbiome is still the subject of in-depth research. It has been linked to a myriad of diseases, from autism spectrum disorders and diabetes to depression, Alzheimer’s disease and movement disorders.
Studies of the gut microbiome are allowing us to better understand its role in our health and the development of various diseases. They also open up new possibilities for developing new treatments and prevention methods.