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The gut microbiota and its crucial role in our health


The gut microbiota and its crucial role in our health


The term “gut microbiota ” refers specifically to the microorganisms living in your intestines. A person has about 300 to 500 different species of bacteria in their digestive tract. For you to have an idea, there are more bacterial cells in your body than human cells (40 trillions vs. 30 trillions). While some microorganisms are harmful to our health, many are incredibly beneficial and even necessary to a healthy body.

Having a wide variety (circa 1,000 species will ensure a good biodiversity) of these good bacteria (each of them plays a different role) in your gut can enhance your immune system function, improve symptoms of depression, help combat obesity, and provide numerous other benefits.

Altogether, these microbes may weigh as much as 1–2 kg, which is roughly the weight of your brain. Together, they function as an extra organ in your body and play a huge role in your health.

The gut microbiota begins to affect your body the moment you are born.

You are first exposed to microbes when you pass through your mother’s birth canal.

As you grow, your gut microbiota begins to diversify, meaning it starts to contain many different types of microbial species. Higher microbiota diversity is considered good for your health. 

Not surprisingly, the food you eat affects the diversity of your gut bacteria.

As your microbiota grows, it affects your body in a number of ways, including:

  • Digesting breast milk: Some of the bacteria that first begin to grow inside babies’ intestines are called Bifidobacteria. They digest the healthy sugars in breast milk that are important for growth.
  • Digesting fibre: Certain bacteria digest fibre, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are important for gut health. Fibre may help prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and the risk of cancer.
  • Helping control your immune system: The gut microbiota also controls how your immune system works. By communicating with immune cells, the gut microbiota can control how your body responds to infection.  
  • Helping control brain health: Research suggests that the gut microbiota may also affect the central nervous system, which controls brain function.

As mentioned earlier, having too many unhealthy microbes can lead to disease.

An imbalance of healthy and unhealthy microbes is sometimes called gut dysbiosis, and it may contribute to weight gain.

The microbiome can also affect gut health and may play a role in intestinal diseases like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

The bloating, cramps and abdominal pain that people with IBS experience may be due to gut dysbiosis. This is because the microbes produce a lot of gas and other chemicals, which contribute to the symptoms of intestinal discomfort. 

However, certain healthy bacteria in the microbiome can also improve gut health.

Certain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, which are found in probiotics and yoghurt, can help seal gaps between intestinal cells and prevent leaky gut syndrome.

These species can also prevent disease-causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal wall.

In fact, taking certain probiotics that contain Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli can reduce symptoms of IBS.

Interestingly, the gut microbiome may even affect heart health. For example, by promoting “good” HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Be aware that certain unhealthy species in the gut microbiome may also contribute to heart disease by producing trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO is a chemical that contributes to blocked arteries, which may lead to heart attacks or stroke.

Certain bacteria within the microbiome convert choline and L-carnitine, both of which are nutrients found in red meat and other animal-based food sources, to TMAO, potentially increasing risk factors for heart disease.

The gut microbiome also may help control blood sugar, which could affect the risk of type 1 and 2 diabetes.

Research showed that the diversity of the microbiome dropped suddenly before the onset of type 1 diabetes. It also found that levels of a number of unhealthy bacterial species increased just before the onset of type 1 diabetes.

Blood sugar levels can vary according to the type of bacteria that compose your microbiota.


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