Studied for more than a century, the intestinal flora still hides many secrets. But today we know that this group of microorganisms that inhabit the digestive tract play an important role in digestive, immunological, neurological and metabolic functions and that it is essential to maintain their balance in order to maintain good health. Here are 5 things you should know about the intestinal flora
For some years now, the intestinal flora, also known as intestinal microbiota, has been at the forefront of scientific research because it is at the center of many biological mechanisms in our body and its imbalance can be one of the factors in the development of certain diseases.
Fibers are essential for the proper functioning of the intestinal flora.
The intestinal microbiota is a collection of non-pathogenic microorganisms (bacteria, parasites, viruses, fungi) that are present in our digestive tract, mainly in the small and large intestines. The density of microbiota is minimal in the stomach, as it contains acid in which bacteria cannot survive.
Each of us has a unique intestinal flora that changes greatly from birth to late adolescence and stabilizes in adulthood. Human microbiota are formed from birth in contact with the mother’s vaginal flora when birth occurs naturally, or in contact with microorganisms in the environment in people born by cesarean section.
We have other microorganisms like microbes from the mouth, nose and throat, microbes from the skin, microbes from the lungs and microbes from the vagina (or vaginal flora). The microbiota in the digestive tract is the most important, because it contains several billion microorganisms, a thousand different types of bacteria and weighs about 4 pounds! “These micro-organisms feed on the soluble fibers that we find in our food, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains.
The microbiota is an essential link in the immune system.
The intestinal flora is mainly involved in the mechanisms of digestion. It facilitates the absorption of nutrients contained in food, produces vitamins (those of the B group) and without them, certain food residues could not be digested. The microbiota is also involved in the functioning of the immune system. You should know that more than half of our immune cells are concentrated in the intestines. The “good” bacteria (called commensal bacteria) in the intestine prevent the “bad” bacteria (called pathogenic bacteria) from settling there.
Three elements can disturb the(fragile) balance
A healthy intestinal flora is a flora that has a balance of several types of bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites. But sometimes this balance is disturbed by stress. As we know, digestive disorders are among the symptoms of stress, including irritable bowel syndrome. It is important to know that the brain and the intestines are connected. In a stressful situation, the brain sends signals to the intestine that disturb the bacterial balance of the microbiota. A paper published in 2011 showed that exposure to stress alters the composition of the microbiota by increasing the amount of potentially harmful bacteria such as Clostridium difficile. It is naturally present in the intestines of some people and is harmless, but it can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps if its bacteria are too numerous.
Antibiotics are designed to fight certain pathogenic bacteria, but they can also destroy good microorganisms in the microbiota and disturb them for several days or even weeks.
A low-fiber diet
If it is not adequately supplied with dietary fiber, the intestinal flora becomes less populated and less diverse.
These three interfering elements can cause an imbalance between pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory microorganisms, the disappearance of good bacteria and the proliferation of bad bacteria.
An unbalanced intestinal flora can have health consequences.
If the intestinal flora is unbalanced, digestion is poor and this can lead to nausea, bloating, excessive gas production and diarrhea. In most cases, these diseases are benign, but they can also persist and in this case be a sign of chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). For example, an imbalance in the microbiota of pro- and anti-inflammatory bacterial species would be partly responsible for the occurrence of Crohn’s disease. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which manifests itself with bloating and heavy gas, is also an intestinal disease caused by an imbalance of the microbiota.
According to several scientific studies, microbiota is also involved in the development of other diseases, such as :
obesity. Obese people have a less diverse and less dense microbiota than people of normal weight. A study published in 2004, carried out on rats, showed that those who did not have microbiota ate more and had 60% more fat mass compared to rats with intestinal flora. This shows that these microorganisms have an influence on weight gain and even more on the development of obesity.
Type 2 diabetes. Changes in the bacterial composition of the human microbiota affect the control of blood sugar (blood glucose level) in the body. Indeed, according to a study published in the journal Nature, an imbalance in the intestinal flora could be the cause of insulin resistance, the main cause of type 2 diabetes.
Colon and stomach cancer.
Certain skin diseases such as psoriasis and atopic eczema in children.
Fungal skin infections
Certain neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis, because microbiota and the brain are linked.
The microbiota is maintained daily by the food we eat
If you suffer from digestive problems, it is because your intestinal flora is unbalanced. Do not panic, you can restore the balance by using the “microbiota diet”:
Getting used to eating high fiber foods. These contain prebiotics, which are the exclusive food for the bacteria in your microbiota. You can find them in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes
Eat fermented foods like cheese, natural yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir or miso. These foods are rich in probiotics that promote good bacteria in the intestines. For yogurt, preference is given to those that have a high concentration of lactobacilli bacteria.
Take a supplement with prebiotics or probiotics in capsule or powder form if the substances contained in the food are not sufficient to restore the balance of your intestinal flora.
Avoid eating too much refined sugar, red meat and diet products. Excess sugar alters the composition of microbiota, destroys some good bacteria and makes the intestinal wall permeable to harmful bacteria species. Red meat feeds the microbiota bacteria that produce a toxic compound. Dietary products often contain artificial sweeteners that promote the growth of bad bacteria in the microbiota.