Avera Medical Minute AMcK: Researchers studying how the human microbiome can affect our overall health

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Researchers at the Avera Institute for Human Genetics are continuing to make great strides in learning how our genetic makeup can affect our overall health.

The human microbiome – it’s something we’re all born with.

“Within our bodies and all of our bodies, we have trillions and trillions of microorganisms,” said Casey Finnicum, graduate student at Avera Institute for Human Genetics.

Finnicum says collectively these microorganisms can influence our health in a number of very important ways.

“This microbial community is developed starting at birth. As we pass through the birth canal, we’re coated with a number of microorganisms from our mom that passes on to us with a good community of these microbes. And as we pass through life, a number of different things in our life – whether it’s people that we associate with, whether it’s things we do like exercise activity or dietary intake -- all these things influence our microbial communities and those microbial communities then influence our health,” said Finnicum.

The gut microbiome is the largest of these microbial communities and resides within the gastrointestinal tract.

“One of the first areas that we really looked at -- the microbiome influence in our health -- was in the context of obesity. So we find that these microbes of obese individuals are perhaps more efficient at extracting energy onto their host,” said Finnicum.

“A lot of studies are showing that people who have these disorders have a very different composition of the microbiome compared to healthy people,” said Erik Ehli, PhD, scientific director at Avera Institute for Human Genetics.

Ehli says their twin register plays a vital role in studying the gut microbiome.

“So using the twins, we really like to study what role nature and nurture plays in disease – so what role is genetics and what role does the environment play. And using twins, we can tease that apart,” said Ehli.

With the obesity epidemic increasing, understanding how gut microbes can influence obesity will be very beneficial for treating these and other conditions.

“We really want to try and nourish our microbes in our gut and by eating a good diet of non-processed foods, I think would be very beneficial to anyone’s gut microbiome,” said Ehli.

Researchers says these microbes could also be linked to neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s. As more studies are conducted, they hope to learn what other parts of the body microbes can influence.