Intestinal Microbiota – Part 1

Is it really true that our health starts in our mouth?
Well, this is partly true. Our mouth is at the beginning of our digestive system and after the process of chewing, food starts moving through the digestive tract in order to be digested and absorbed in our gut.

This process, when properly functioning, guarantees us to receive crucial nutrients needed for optimal function of our body and consequently good health.

However, based on scientific research, our health begins in our gut or, more specifically, in our gut microbiota, or intestinal flora. Therefore, our health depends on how homeostatic, or balanced, our gut microbiome is. In order to have a balanced intestinal microbiota with plenty of beneficial bacteria, a few essential factors are needed, such as an anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense diet, a balanced lifestyle, and stress management.

Because good health depends on how balanced our gut microbiome is, let’s better understand this mechanism.

What is a microbiome or intestinal flora?
Gut microbiome, gut flora, or gut bacteria (all the same), refers to the community of microorganisms that are living in our gut. Actually, there are more than 100 trillion microorganisms that are quite diverse with more than 1000 different species.

That literally means that we have ten times more microbes in our bodies than we have human cells, and they are mainly composed of bacteria, but also include viruses, fungi, protozoa, and archaea that are residing in and on our bodies; literally sharing our body space with us.

Why does our gut microbiome matter?
Our microbiome is so important that scientists are considering it a hidden virtual organ. Also, they say that having a homeostatic gut environment, or a healthy and balanced gut microbiota, is necessary for a healthy life. This is due to the fact that most of our gut microbes are harmless and beneficial to us when they are in balance.

This community of microbes offers us many benefits, such as regulating metabolism, and are essential for normal digestion and nutrition. Some of these microbes digest dietary fibers, while others synthesize essential nutrients. Also, they protect us against infections and pathogenic bacteria. In addition, our intestinal microbiota is the residence of most of our immune cells. (Between 70 to 80 percent of which are in our gut.)

 

In this way, our intestinal microbiota, depending on its state, can influence a normal physiology (when in equilibrium) or create susceptibilities to diseases (when unbalanced, with a disordered growth of bacteria).

What factors adversely affect our gut microbiota?
Diet has been shown to significantly determine the composition of our gut microbial community. This means that the food we eat may harmfully and dynamically affect our gut microbes in a matter of days.

In addition, diet is highly relevant in changing for the better the diversity of gut flora. Thus, macronutrients, fat, carbohydrates, and proteins play an important role in shaping the composition and activity of this complex microbe’s population.

There are also a few other factors that may dynamically influence the composition of our gut microbiome, such as:

– Lifestyle
– Chronic stress (bowel-brain communication)
– Chronic inflammation
– Intestinal infection
– Antibiotics and medication use
– Physical inactivity
– Genetic predisposition

This is a profound topic that has many important details, so this article is divided into two parts, and in part two you will read about how the composition of the intestinal flora varies among individuals, what chronic health conditions are associated with an unbalanced or disrupted gut microbiota, and more.

Most important, I want you to be aware that small changes in diet and lifestyle are powerful and free tools we all have in our favor and the best ways to prevent chronic illnesses.

 

By Elianni Gaio, CHC