When we talk about bacteria we tend to think of the negative role that bacteria plays in nature. There are however some bacteria that are beneficial to us and in fact even necessary for our mental and physical health.
Our bodies are riddled with bacteria. A variety of coordinated scientific reports from universities and consortiums have concluded that the human body has 10 times more non-human cells than normal cells. 1. These non-human cells reside pretty much everywhere in the body from the skin, mucous membranes to the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract in itself has its own microbiome, which is a complex community of microorganisms that not only coexist with our own cells but also mutually benefit each one.
The microbiome of the intestine plays an important role in our physical and mental health. An imbalance in the microbiome has been linked to IBS, obesity and diabetes as well as ADHD, anxiety and depression. The plethora of non-human cells in the intestine includes some 300-500 different types of bacteria and each microbiome is unique to the individual. Like a finger-print it is created from the microbiota you received from your mother as well as the environment you were born into. Later as the microbiome develops it may transform depending on one’s diet and lifestyle.
The Role of Microorganisms in the Gut
Breaking down short chain fatty acids (SCFAs)
Humans lack the enzyme to break down dietary fiber. As fiber passes through the intestine undigested fermentation occurs which results in SCFAs. SCFAs play a key role in the prevention of metabolic syndrome. The function of these SCFAs are to reduce PH level in the intestine, encourages the movement of muscles and the growth of cells, suppression of appetite, glycemic control and therefore weight loss. The key to this process is the bacteria which ferment the dietary fiber and create these SCFAs.
Synthesizing Vitamin B and K and the Absorption of Minerals.
Vitamins are essential to carry out thousands of chemical reactions in the body making them essential to health and wellbeing. You cannot live without them. Unfortunately even if you eat a healthy diet, you can be deficient in vitamins. This can be due to aging or other factors like stress. What matters is how much you can absorb from the food you eat and this is down to the bacteria in the gut. These bacteria can create vitamins like B12, folate, biotin and Vitamin K. Studies also show that healthy gut bacteria play an important role in the absorption of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc.
Metabolizing acids, sterols, xenobiotics
Steroids, mainly cholesterol and bile salts are broken down by the gut microbiome which may have a positive impact on cholesterol gallstone disease, colon and liver cancers as well as inflammatory and metabolic diseases. Research is surprisingly little at present even though we have known for decades that gut bacteria are the main metabolizer of sterols. Furthermore, it is the bacteria in the gut that is a key transformer of xenobiotics, drugs, pesticides and chemicals, which are ingested. Fortunately these bacteria exist so that these xenobiotics are not ingested through the villi in the small intestine.
Defending against pathogens and protecting Gut Associated Lymphatic Tissue (GALT)
The gut microbiome is also a protector of our immune system. When bad bacteria proliferate in the gut they alter the GALT which lies below the microbiome and epithelial layer of the small intestine. The GALT consists of tissue that protects the body from invasion therefore is a major part of our immune system. The good bacteria in our microbiome play an integral role as a first line of defense. The microbiome is important therefore for the integrity of the mucosal lining, defending against tissue inflammation, intolerances and hyper permeability.
The gut microbiome plays an integral role in a variety of functions in the body. When the gut bacteria is not balanced neither is our mental and physical health. Supplementing your healthy diet with good quality probiotics as well as prebiotics to feed the probiotics is essential to maintaining an equilibrium of mutual benefit with our guests, especially since essentially there are more of them then us.