Bacteria in our gut
The gastrointestinal microbiota is one the most diverse and dense places of bacteria in the body. Gut flora is established by the age of 1-2 years old and from there on out you develop a relationship with those microorganisms. The relationship between some gut flora and humans is not merely commensal (a non-harmful coexistence), but rather a mutualistic relationship. The composition of human gut flora changes over time, when the diet changes, and as overall health changes. The upper digestive tract has few microbe populations but the main place you will find bacteria in the gut is the colon. It contains a densely populated microbial ecosystem with up to 1012 cells per gram of intestinal content. (1 )
Many studies have shown that microbial diversity in the gut is correlated to having a healthy colon. The normal microbiota of the large intestine is extremely important in preventing the establishment of pathogenic organisms .(2) Some microbes out compete the pathogens and others have metabolic products that prevent pathogens from becoming established. In this way these microbes are essential for our immune health. Not only are they important for immune health but the gut microbes are also responsible for helping us with our metabolism. Without gut flora, the human body would be unable to utilize some of the undigested carbohydrates it consumes, because some types of gut flora have enzymes that human cells lack for breaking down certain polysaccharides.
When there is an imbalance of the normal microbe community by either a lack of diversity or lack of numbers, the epithelial layer the colon becomes susceptible to pathogen exposure. Enough exposure over a long period of time can result in chronic disease. Crohn’s disease is chronic inflammation of the lower intestine. Current thinking is that microorganisms are taking advantage of their host’s weakened mucosal layer and inability to clear bacteria from the intestinal walls, which are both symptoms of Crohn’s (3). Different strains found in tissue and different outcomes to antibiotics therapy and resistance suggest Crohn’s Disease is not one disease, but a variety of diseases related to different pathogens.
Behaviors for a healthy gut
A nutritional diet will help the health of your gut. Eating for a healthy gastrointestinal tract try adding this to your diet:
- Eat plenty of fiber; think fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Eat three to five servings of fish each week.
- Choose lean cuts of meat and remove the skin from poultry.
- Stay well hydrated — water is best.
- Avoid high-fat, processed, and fried foods.
- Don’t overeat at any one sitting; stick to smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
Obesity and stress also play an important role in maintaining homeostasis within the gut. A healthy weight is correlated to less bowel problems. Regular exercise can contribute to a healthy weight and can lower stress levels. Exercise also helps with constipation and staying regular with bowel movements. The use of probiotics (microorganisms that are believed to provide health benefits when consumed) are recommended. Putting more “good” bacteria in the stomach can push out the “bad” bacteria.
Behaviors that put you at risk
Smoking and drinking are potentially harmful to the gut. Smoking can cause damage to just about any one of your major organ systems including your gut. Protect your digestive tract by quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, since tobacco exposure has been linked to many conditions including heartburn, indigestion , esophageal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer. Relying on vending machine fare, junk foods, and fast foods instead of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains gets many of us into trouble.
Eating healthy, maintain a healthy weight, limiting stress, and reducing behaviors that put you at risk will give you a better probability of maintaining a healthy gut. The composition of human gut flora changes over time, when the diet changes, and as overall health changes. A microbial community in the gut that is more complex and diverse promotes a healthy gut.
- Guarner, F; Malagelada, J(2003). “Gut flora in health and disease”. The Lancet. 361 (9356): 512–9.
- Willey JM, Sherwood L, Woolverton CJ. 2014. Prescott’s Microbiology. Mcgraw-Hill EducationNew York, NY.
- Sartor, R Balfour (2006). “Mechanisms of Disease: Pathogenesis of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis”. Nature Clinical Practice Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 3 (7): 390–407.