The critical role of intestinal flora in our body

What is intestinal flora?

The intestinal flora is the set of microorganisms that are in the digestive tract. There are thousands of billions of them! They weight more than a kilogram in our gut and they are more than a thousand different species. The flora is composed of microorganisms such as: protozoa, worms, viruses, beneficial fungi. In that world everyone eats everyone and everyone uses the other.

The word « bacteria » refers to a micro-organism that comes from the Greek meaning « little stick ». The intestinal flora is a good example of cooperation between different kinds of micro organisms.

What is the intestinal flora role?

We have billions of bacteria live in our gut without causing pathology. They are even essential for the proper functioning of our body: bacteria allow the development of our intestinal mucosa; they synthesize vitamins, degrade certain compounds and protect us against potentially pathogenic bacteria from our diet.

The flora produces vitamins especially vitamins B1 to B12, K which are soluble. So there is a factory in the intestines to produce vitamins. The first role of the intestinal flora is purely digestive. Indeed, some elements of our food can not be digested without their intervention – this is the case of certain fibers. In addition, the intestinal flora changes the pH of the intestine, which suddenly becomes a hostile place for germs.

The flora detoxifies our cells to prevent us from having for example cancers and eliminates these toxins by our feces. The intestinal flora is able to produce all the substances that can protect us against all attacks on our immune system. The integrity of our intestinal system is under the control of the intestinal flora. The flora produces enzymes and everything that helps us digest food. Without this flora we will not be able to digest the best food in the world. 90% of the cells and all the genetic material come from our gut. 85% of our immune system is in our intestines. The flora nourishes the immune system and if the flora is intoxicated, the immune system becomes ineffective. There is a relationship between flora and our immunity.

New findings on intestinal flora critical role

The intestinal flora has recently been shown to control or regulate bone mass, body fat storage, intestinal angiogenesis and the good developpment of the immune response. It has also been shown that intestinal flora seems to play a major role in energy metabolism with possible links to at least some of the forms of obesity.

The intestinal flora is even able to regulate the expression of certain genes of the host, which could evoke advanced symbiotic relationships. By producing substances similar to neurotransmitters, the bacteria of the human gut could be in communication with the brain, via the cardiovascular and nervous system. This finding opens the door to new research on intestinal flora as an organ that influences behavior.

How to balance the intestinal flora?

In a healthy gut good and bad bacteria are in a natural balance. Good bacteria perform decisive tasks. They drive the production of immune cells in the body. To do that they will attach themselves to the intestinal wall and start to communicate with it. The intestinal wall functions as a small cell factory. When the probiotic bacteria touch the intestinal wall, the cells of the intestinal wall produce immune cells. These are so-called « T » cells. These cells are then transported throughout the body via the blood circulatory system. Particularly in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract where they will fight infections and inhibit allergies such as hay fever or asthma. In addition, good probiotic bateries fight against unwanted bacteria that make us sick.

An excess of bad bacteria can lead to serious intestinal diseases. The most decisive factor for health is therefore to ensure the balance of the intestinal flora. In most people’s lives, this balance is now seriously threatened. The imbalance of the intestinal flora is often due to the modern lifestyle (stress, alcohol, smoking cigarettes, antibiotics …). This lifestyle prevents the immune system from developing properly, which increases the risk of infection especially in the respiratory tract and intestine.

With good probiotic bacteria, we can now fight against this imbalance. These probiotics drive the gut to produce immune cells protecting the gut and the lungs and other organs so that they work optimally. Thus, microbial infections and serious diseases can be avoided. A balanced intestinal flora is therefore a prerequisite for our health. Unfortunately, this condition is lacking for many people.

To reverse the trend of imbalance of intestinal flora, researchers recommend the consumption of several strains of probiotic bacteria. For decades, conventional medecine has prescribed probiotics to treat and prevent many diseases.

Transmission of bacteria from mother flora to child

The first source of bacteria in a new born baby comes from the vaginal flora of the mother.  Babies are born with a sterile bowel. Therefore mother intestinal flora is the primal source of baby’s bacteria. Another source of bacteria for a baby is breast milk. A baby flora can be unbalanced due to the composition of his mother milk which is related to her blood that is tied to her flora. Breastfeeding babies can receive an unbalanced bacterial flora from their mothers. This is why year after year the health situation of babies is deteriorating in the world.

It was found that 100% of children who suffered from abnormal psychological development had unbalanced intestinal flora. Research shows that 91% of autistic babies were born with a healthy brain. It is now believed that toxins in the mother intestinal flora are the cause of damage to the baby’s brain, confusing the cognitive functions of the child.

In recent years, many countries have observed an increase in the number of births by caesarean; more and more studies highlight a link between births by caesarean and the emergence of diseases such as asthma, autism, type 1 diabetes, obesity, digestive or respiratory disorders, and allergies.

During a vaginal delivery, the baby ingests bacteria present in the vagina of his mother. These bacteria (especially « bifidobacteria » and « bacteroids ») then have a protective effect on the immune system of the baby. They also create a favorable ground for the long-term colonization of its own digestive tract by bacteria useful for its metabolism.

In the absence of these commensal species such as bifidobacteria and bacteroids, the newborn baby would then be more susceptible to the colonization by pathogenic species often associated with risks of asthma, allergies, or diarrhea.It is established that coming into the world by caesarean rather than natural way give an  unbalance intestinal flora to the newborn. These changes may have more or less significant impacts on his health throughout his life.

American researchers, however, have just shown that it is possible to completely annihilate this harm, simply by presenting to the baby, just after the Caesarean section, tissues soaked with the internal bacterial flora of his mother.

Consequences of a disturbance in the intestinal flora

Intake of antibiotics or stress, can lead to various pathologies such as diarrhea, inflammation or infections.  Antibiotic treatments are able to eliminate certain bacteria therefore unbalance the intestinal flora, promote the occurrence of sometimes severe diarrhea. As the good bacteria (probiotics) are eliminated in part by antibiotics, this leaves more scope for the bad bacteria which can therefore make us sick. Bad bacteria produce substances that damage the flora, the intestinal wall and make it porous to viruses and bacteria.

Eating disorders, anorexia, gluttony, are conditions related to intestinal flora. Research has shown that people with schizophrenia, epilepsy all have poor intestinal flora. Taking care of one’s intestinal flora even if you do not feel symptoms of discomfort is critical because diseases can lurk in your body for years without showing any symptoms.

Alain Bouwa

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