We humans are never alone. There are 100 trillion microbes, also called microorganisms, live throughout our body. They colonise at our skin, in the gut, genitals and up the nose. Sometimes they cause illnesses, but most of the time, microbes live in harmony with us human hosts and provide vital functions essential for our survival.
Bacteria represents most of the microbes living in our body. Did you know that we have more bacteria in our body than we have human cells? Mathematically, we are one-part human and one and a half part bacteria (1:1.5 ratio). Our human gut contains the largest bacterial ecosystem – gut flora. Fun fact: bacteria in the area are called flora because the same type of bacteria clustered and bloomed into a shape looking like a flower (flora).
When we mention bacteria in the human body, most people immediately think of a disease, called a bacterial infection. At some point in life, you may have an infection and your doctor probably prescribed you with antibiotics. Antibiotics are drugs that kill and/ or prevent bacterial growth. However, the majority of the bacteria are harmless and they actually play a big role in maintaining our healthy growth and overall well-being.
So, what do gut flora do?
Interestingly, gut flora keeps us slim. They play an important role in our body shape by helping us digest and ferment foods. The gut flora metabolizes nutrients from the food we eat and produces vitamins, amino acids, short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and other metabolites for energy production and shaping our metabolic rates. They may even fight off stress for us, regulate our mood and prevent mood disorders e.g. depression, anxiety, etc. Besides that, the gut flora detoxifies and helps remove toxins and waste out of our body.
Our gut wall houses 70% of the cells that make up our immune system. Gut flora boost our immune system by developing immune cells. They also train the immune system therefore protecting us from autoimmune diseases. In addition, the gut flora defends us by occupying the space in our gut so that the pathogens could not get any access to and thrive.
Overall, the tiny residents are helping us to function as a human.
Now what disrupts gut flora?
Diet which is high in fat and low in fiber is linked to a decrease in overall total bacteria and beneficial bacteria. Processed food and food additives including emulsifiers can result in an aggressive gut bacteria that encroaches upon its host and promotes inflammation. Did you know? Toddlers that were introduced with less variety of food or salty and sugary food during weaning period, they are more prone to allergies and illnesses when they get older.
Shorten of birth gestational age
Preterm infants show low diversity with an increased colonization of potentially pathogenic bacteria and reduced levels of strict anaerobes.
Delivery method of newborn
Newborns infants delivered through vaginal acquire a flora profile resembling their mother’s vaginal flora. On the contrary, those by Cesarean section (C-section) acquire bacteria derived from the hospital environment and mother’s skin, which are less diverse in terms of bacteria species.
Method of milk feeding on babies
Breastfed infants generally harbor a more complex and diverse gut flora than formula-fed infants, which are often colonized with so called bad bacteria e.g. Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Smokers tend to have a shifted gut flora (imbalance gut flora). However, good news is that after smoking cessation, their gut flora may return to a flora just like non-smokers.
Psychological stress is related to changes in the gut flora. If we felt stressed, some of our beneficial microbes may be affected.
When we fall sick, doctors often prescribe us with antibiotics. Antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria. They have also been linked with making long-lasting changes to our gut flora. Even common medications such as paracetamol can interfere with our gut flora.
Sedentary people tend to have a less diverse gut flora compared to people who are physically active. Physical activity helps increase diversity and abundance of gut flora, boosting production of beneficial metabolites for us.
Scientists have solidified that the human genomes shape our gut flora. Fact: Hadza people have high diversity gut flora.
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