Microbiota: the ‘good’ gut bacteria

microbiota

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When we talk about bacteria, it is normal to associate them with something bad, harmful or dangerous for our body, as there are many of them that can cause problems of different calibre, such as gastroenteritis, arthritis or salmonella if they are not detected and treated in time. However, today we are a little more positive, as we want to talk about those bacteria that help our body to function properly.

Exactly, we live and need to have bacteria in our body, as each of them has a specific function. If we suddenly throw the word ‘microbiota’ at you, you might not know what we mean, but if we say ‘gut flora’, you’ve probably associated it with a yoghurt advert and you know what we mean. Both terms mean the same thing and refer to the set of bacteria located in our gut that are part of our body’s functioning.

In today’s post we will demystify these necessary bacteria and look at all the things they do for us every day. Here we go!

 

What is the microbiota?

As we have briefly mentioned, the microbiota is the set of bacteria or living microorganisms that are located in our intestine or digestive tract. It may sound contradictory that we need to have living bacteria inside our bodies, but their presence is indispensable for the development of the immune system, human behaviour and even mood.

The so-called microflora accompanies us from birth and remains at more or less stable levels until the age of 3. Once we pass that age, changes occur in all these micro-organisms as we change our diet or grow older. To give you a glimpse of what these little living things we have living without paying for accommodation in our intestines do for us in terms of immunity and infection, here are some of the functions they perform:

 

  • They are involved in the production of energy and certain vitamins (vitamin K and some B complex vitamins).
  • They help regulate metabolism, as they are involved in the digestion of food that could not be digested in the small intestine or stomach.
  • They regulate and strengthen the immune system.
  • They fight aggressions from other microorganisms to protect the integrity of the mucosa.
  • They regulate the secretion of intestinal neurotransmitters, insulin and peptides.

 

The so-called microbiota always refers to the bacteria in the gut, but there are also bacteria in other parts of the body, such as the nose, mouth, lungs, vagina and even the skin. All of them form a conglomerate of bacterial and human cells, which is why it was initially thought that there were more bacterial than human cells in the ‘mix’. More recent studies have already shown that it is actually more like 50-50 of each type.

The amount of gut microflora, today’s protagonist, is a little overwhelming: in a person of about 70kg there are more than 100 trillion microorganisms weighing about 200g. A curious fact: in a person’s microbiota we can find up to 150/200 times more genes than in the whole of their cells. It should be noted that the human genome has more than 23 000 genes, while a microbiome has more than 3 million genes, produced by thousands of metabolites. If we do the maths, more than 99% of our genes are microbial.

 

Composition of the microbiota

Each microflora is unique, as a person is unique. In addition, other external and internal factors that may alter it must be taken into account. The features that we can do nothing about, which come ‘as standard’, are:

  • Genetics.
  • The anatomical component of the intestinal tract.
  • Gestational age (whether there has been preterm or term delivery).
  • The mode of birth (vaginal delivery or caesarean section).
  • Age.

 

Obviously, there is nothing we can do to change or fix the elements we were born with. However, gut flora is also affected by everyday habits or habits:

  • Feeding during infancy (breast milk, infant formula, solid foods, etc.).
  • Drugs (antibiotics, antacids, anti-diabetics, etc.).
  • Eating habits and ways of cooking in adulthood.
  • Environment and way of life (rural or urban environment, physical activity, type of work).
  • Weight gain.

 

Pathologies that can affect the microbiota

Being in the gut and assisting in some of its functions, the microbiota is closely related to the occurrence of intestinal and inflammatory diseases, constipation or even coeliac disease. It is also related to other pathologies, such as obesity, asthma or certain cardiovascular diseases.

If any factor is altered, a disease may develop. Some of the intestinal conditions directly related to the microbiota are:

  • Celiac disease, a disorder caused by a reaction to the ingestion of gluten.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, caused by instability in the microbiota).
  • Acute diarrhoea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting, fever, nausea and dehydration.
  • Helicobacter pylori infection, a disease that is usually asymptomatic but can lead to gastritis, stomach cancer and gastric ulcer.
  • Necrotising entercolitis, a common pathology in newborns due to artificial feeding or prematurity.

Although all factors must be taken into account, it is diet that will have the greatest influence on a healthy and happy microbiota. It is the diet that provides us with all the nutrients and vitamins we need, so if we eat too many processed and ultra-processed products too often we are not helping either these micro-organisms, which just want to do a good job, or our bodies in general. That is why the saying ‘we are what we eat’ is still so topical.

 

What alters the intestinal flora?

In addition to the causes mentioned above, it is possible that your gut microflora may be affected by other causes that also need to be taken into account:

  • Poor nutrition. A diet low in fibre and with too much meat, fats and sugars can negatively affect your micro-organisms.
  • Bad habits. We have already discussed some of these above, but we stress that sedentary lifestyles, stress, alcohol, smoking, insomnia and irregular sleep routines are fatal to bacterial flora, as is excessive exposure to pollution.
  • Age. Getting older unfortunately means being much more vulnerable to any health problem. From the age of 60 onwards, the number of beneficial bacteria gradually decreases. Hence the increase in illness, infections and digestive symptoms (such as constipation).
  • Viral or bacterial infections and other digestive diseases (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
  • Post-operative treatments, such as radiotherapy or surgery.
  • Travel. It is common knowledge that when we travel, our stomach is not what it should be. Changes in schedules or routines, diets from other places or more tropical climates are factors that increase the risk of contracting the famous traveller’s diarrhoea.

 

Probiotics and prebiotics

Let’s move on to yoghurt, the reason you’ve probably heard of gut flora. This food is very rich in probiotics, a food supplement based on other micro-organisms that come as a reinforcement of the flora, helping to improve, restore and maintain its composition. These are live bacteria found in fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi and sauerkraut. If you like this kind of food, go ahead! Your stomach will thank you for it (always with your head).

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a fibre that stimulates the growth of microbiota, especially in the elderly, and serves as food. Both elements together can be a lifesaver for our microbiota if we have not been treating it properly. It is recommended to eat at least 30 grams of fibre a day.

Be careful if your diet is usually low in fibre and you suddenly increase your fibre intake. This sudden change can cause gas and bloating, so make the changes slowly and slowly and drink more water.

Incorporating them into our diet is synonymous with preventing almost any alteration of the intestinal flora. This does not mean that we have to eat a yoghurt every day; the best thing to do is, if a person notices some discomfort in the stomach, to go to the doctor and have the appropriate tests done in order to offer the best treatment.

 

Microbiota’s best friends

A healthy gut is one that has a high diversity of microbes that have a seed relationship. However, everyone has a specific ‘palate’ and needs specific foods to be healthy. Hence, the best way to maintain a healthy flora is to eat a balanced diet. The greater the variety of foods, the more different bacteria will thrive in your gut.

Avoiding processed foods will save you a lot of headaches when it comes to taking care of your microbiota and your body in general, as these foods often contain ingredients that cancel out the ‘good’ bacteria or increase the ‘bad’ ones. Solution? Eliminate them from the diet or consume them sporadically.

Olive oil is the best choice for any diet. You can use it instead of other oils and fats in your meals, as long as the taste is right, as its level of polyphenols, which are good for microbes, is higher.

As you can see, yoghurt is not the only way to send a little help to our microbiota. Make sure you eat a balanced diet both to maintain the levels of these micro-organisms and for the other functions and organs, which are also affected by a poor diet.

If you suspect that you may have an irregularity in your gut flora, the best thing to do is to see your doctor for a series of tests to see what is going on inside you. At AmbarLab understands the importance of a simple test for the patient’s peace of mind, which is why we have more than 3,000 tests in our laboratory, as well as support in the management of your business and the development of new projects.

We are not satisfied with the conventional, we are motivated and excited to offer one more point, with a more human and personalised treatment. So, if you have any questions or simply want to know more information about our methods, you can contact with the team, who will accompany you at all times.

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