Most of us live our lives without knowing half of what constitutes our body as humans. We tend to focus on the visible things we can see, the organs, the systems, etc. We are however at times ignorant or have little knowledge about the not so visible or minute organisms that are resident in or on us. The price we pay for this ignorance could be alarming if we are not careful. That is why I would be focusing for the next couple of weeks on a group of organisms that are part of every human. They are called microorganisms. I will talk about what they are, types, and what they mean to us as humans.
By definition, microorganisms are tiny organisms that can only be seen with the aid of a microscope. In other words, microorganisms are organisms that cannot be seen directly with the human eye except through the lens of a microscope. There are a few exceptions to this definition though, especially when we get to fungi and protozoa divisions, that is however a story for another day.
There are basically five categories that microorganisms are grouped into. They are:
Under each of these categories there are still so many families, genus, and species; this is however not the point of this article. I’m sure a couple of us know what microorganisms are, and do, we just don’t know how close they are to us or what benefits they give to us, and that is my focus in this article.
We most times associate microorganisms with diseases and other infections but rarely know that there is a positive side to them too. For starters, do you know that to be considered as healthy there must be present at all times a certain number and ratio of microorganisms in and on your body?
Shocking, isn’t it? But it is very true. There is a category of microorganisms known as normal microbial flora, normal microbiota, or normal flora for short. These normal flora are present in the human body at all times to ensure a smooth and efficient functioning of the body (no, you don’t have to start checking all over your body now, you can’t see them you know). These microorganisms include some bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Common examples are Staphylococcus aureus, Lactobacillus spp, Candida spp, Proteus spp, just to name a few. They are typically present on the skin, in the stomach, the vagina, urethra, small and large intestines, outer ear, mouth, nose, conjuctiva and so on.
So you may be wondering what exactly is the benefit of having these microorganisms in the body, especially if I’m saying they are not evil? One major benefit of these normal flora is that they help to prevent harmful, pathogenic or permit me to say evil microorganisms from entering the body; if they do enter the body these normal flora produce chemicals that inhibit them from causing havoc to our body system. In other words, the normal flora protect their territory from being invaded by other organisms, thereby protecting their human host from being infected. Secondly, these resident microorganisms help in homeostasis, i.e., regulation of the internal environment of their hosts. Another important benefit of normal flora is that they sometimes produce some products/chemicals that are useful for their host. Typical example is the production of vitamins B and K by bacteria in the colon.
Inasmuch as these resident microorganisms are the good guys and provide a range of benefits to their hosts, there are times when the reverse is the case and they actually become pathogenic i.e. they cause diseases, or in other words they become bad guys. This happens when there’s a tiniest shift or disturbance in the distribution of these microorganisms in their resident location. It could also happen when microorganisms that are usually in one part of the body gain access to another part of the body e.g. the brain, blood, spinal cord (all of these are areas that microorganisms are usually not found). When this happens it results to infections called opportunistic infections. The predisposing factors that could cause this shift or displacement include stress, malnutrition, and indiscriminate use of antibiotics, starvation, diarrhea, and change in diet.
Here are things to pay attention to ensure that our resident microorganisms do not go rogue on us:
- Avoid use of harsh ingredients or chemicals on your skin, armpits, and vagina. You need to pay attention to the contents of your cream, deodorants or antiperspirants, shaving cream, etc. This is to ensure that these ingredients do not kill or destabilize the ratio of normal flora on the body
- Avoid indiscriminate use of antibiotics unless it is prescribed by a medical doctor to manage a particular condition.
3. Proper diet must be kept to
4. We should try as much as we can to lower stress in our day to day life
I will stop here for this first part. I will however continue in the next post about microorganisms in food, both in production and consumption. Till then stay healthy and fabulous!
Reference: Prescott, Harley, and Klein (2008). Microbiology. Second Edition. McGraw Hill
Crown Musings | Become The Best Version of YOU.