Because the microbiome is so changeable, it's an attractive focus for interventions to improve health. While Ed Yong writes in an op-ed at the New York Times that altering the gut microbiome to treat recurrent Clostridium difficile infections has been highly successful, trying to determine whether more subtle changes to the microbiome are something to be treated may be more difficult.
What constitutes a healthy microbiome is changing as researchers learn more about it, Yong says. For instance, a healthy vaginal microbiome had been considered to be one comprised largely by Lactobacillus bacteria, but a recent study found that the microbiomes of about a quarter of healthy women don't follow into that model. Additionally, a microbiome pattern usually associated with people with metabolic syndrome can also be found in women during the later stages of pregnancy. The microbiome, Yong says, is complex and changing.
"We cling to the desire for simple panaceas that will bestow good health with minimal effort. But biology is rarely that charitable," Yong says. "So we need to learn how tweaking our diets, lifestyles, and environments can nudge and shape the ecosystems in our bodies."