Very few things in this world are truly one of a kind: snowflakes, fingerprints… and, you might be surprised to learn, your microbes! No one else in the world can claim to have your exact bacterial makeup. So, what determines your “microbial fingerprint”?
In the wide world of the microbiota (flora), there are roughly 1100 species that are typically found in human beings. We see patterns of similarity, called enterotypes, between groups. For example, one study found very different bacterial patterns between kids in rural Africa versus urban Europe. From that gene pool, everything you are and everything you do guides the relative handful of species that calls you home.
It starts with your genetics, which helps drive the bacterial community that will suit you best. Next up, the way you were born. Natural birth exposes a baby to bacteria that will shape your digestion and your immune development. Babies born by caesarean section are first exposed to skin bacteria, which, while not explicitly harmful, alters that development. In fact, it is thought that one of the reasons C-section babies may have more allergic disease is the bacteria they are exposed to at birth.
Arrival home begins the lifelong interplay between the outside world and your inner community of bacteria. Were your parents clean freaks or did you eat a bit of dirt on the playground? What kind of foods were you fed – plenty of fibre or lots of sugar? Even the air you breathe matters: research has shown that even just leaving windows open can help improve the bacteria in our environment. So what makes our bacteria ours is really complex.
Throughout your lifetime, this microscopic community is in constant flux. While your microbiota can begin to transform in as little as 24 hours, it takes long-term changes to produce a significant shift. However, we alter this community in innumerable ways: through antibacterial cleaners – both home and personal; stress, poor diet and medications. A single course of antibiotics can forever shift your bacterial fingerprint. This is one of the reasons we take a probiotic like Bio-K+. A probiotic helps defend your own unique community of bacteria against a lifetime of aggressors.
Someday, your microbial fingerprint may hold the key to personalizing your health care. In the meantime, do all you can to foster better bugs. Eat plenty of plant foods, get outside more, manage stress and throw out your hand sanitizer in favour of old-fashioned soap and water.