We have all suffered more than once from gastrointestinal disorders that left us unable to act for a while. The microbiota or intestinal flora is very important to our body. Apart from its function of assimilating the nutrients that need to be absorbed, it is considered a crucial organ for our internal well-being.
In this article we will see what the intestinal flora is, its functions, and how to keep it balanced.
What is the intestinal microbiota?
The gastrointestinal system is made up of two elements;
Both elements depend on each other, and their balance determines the proper functioning of the body.
Everyone has their own intestinal flora, consisting of certain species of indigenous microorganisms that are permanently established, and of other transient species.
Native species begin to establish genetic influence during pregnancy and later during birth and lactation up to the first year of life.
Transient species are modulated in the diet and lifestyle they acquire, bearing in mind that the highly aseptic environment they are exposed to goes against good diversity.
Once the microbiota reaches maturity, it generally remains stable into old age.
types of bacteria
This ecosystem is mainly composed of bacteria with a small proportion of fungi and viruses. We will focus on the bacterial side, with some 10 to 100 trillion microorganisms, which represent the weight of 1.5 kilos of the total body weight. Its concentration increases as it progresses through the digestive tract, the intestine being the most frequent.
The most abundant species are Firmicutes, which represent 60-80% (mainly Ruminiococcus, Clostridium and Lactobacillus); Bacteroidetes, which represent between 20-30% (highlighting Bacteroides, Prevotella and Xylanibacter), and Actinobacteria, representing a minority of around 10% (with a predominance of the genus Bifidobacterium).
Throughout human evolution, changes in the ecology of the microbiota affect the composition, this change has been more radical in recent decades. It is significant that there has been a loss of biodiversity in developed countries compared to undeveloped countries.
On the other hand, in a healthy person, the circadian rhythm of bacteria is every 24 hours, that is, a biological cycle with a predominance of Firmicutes during the day and Bacteroidetes at night.
Likewise, the renewal of mucous membranes takes place every 7 days, so a new cycle of the microbacterial ecosystem will occur every day.
functions of the intestinal flora
The influence of commensal bacteria on host pathophysiology is increasingly documented. Let’s see its most relevant functions:
They provide an energetic and metabolic substrate for our cells.
It also intervenes in the activation of certain nutrients that we eat, so that they have an effect on our body, such as polyphenols.
They are essential for the development and regulation of the immune system, it is also the immune system of mucous membranes (MALT), protection against invasion by pathogenic microorganisms, the development of cancer cells, inflammatory pathologies, autoimmune diseases and allergies.
Protection of the mucous membrane of the stomach
The intestinal mucosa is one of the main barriers between our internal and external environment. Any disturbance in intestinal permeability will cause poorly digested nutrients, pathogens or endotoxins from food to enter the bloodstream.
The microbiota composes two short fatty acids: butyrate (capable of increasing the proliferation and regeneration of the epithelial cells of the digestive tract), and propionate (which decreases peristalsis, contributing to the appropriate passage of food bolus speed). The greater the diversity of healthy microorganism colonies, the more intense this phenomenon will be and the better our gastrointestinal system will be.
It prevents diabetes and pain
The microbiota regulates insulin resistance and prevents changes in intestinal permeability, increases the activity of bile acids and helps the loss of adipose tissue, among other effects.
Better cardiovascular system
It avoids inflammation in the body, which can cause cardiovascular diseases, such as altering the balance of cholesterol, and is more atherogenic (they slow down the ability of the arteries), or suffering from high blood pressure.
modulating the nervous system
The digestive tract is controlled by the vagus nerve, which is closely related to the nervous system. In this way, signals are sent to the brain, which induce;
1) eating behavior patterns
To favor the proliferation of the predominant bacterial colonies. If we have a disturbance in the balance of this bacterial ecosystem, which is called “dysbiosis”, the appetite will be for foods rich in carbohydrates, fats and sugars.
This will promote gastrointestinal inflammation and, in turn, stress reactions, which will contribute to this vicious cycle. In turn, the influence of the movement of the microflora and intestinal peristalsis will affect the state. Do you remember those moments before the fight?
2) emotional balance
The microbiota is capable of synthesizing neurotransmitters such as serotonin, or amino acids such as tryptophan (this is in turn a precursor to serotonin), which will help us calm down, reducing depressive states.
3) better sleep quality
Correct synthesis of serotonin leads to adequate production of melatonin, which induces restful sleep.
4) Prevention of neurological diseases
The presence of butyrate induces the synthesis of neuroprotective substances, preventing pathologies such as autism, depression, epilepsy, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
It is involved in the metabolism of sex and endocrine hormones, which influences the proper functioning of the reproductive organs or the thyroid. It is a key factor in hormone-dependent cancer prevention, such as breast, ovarian, uterine, etc.
Certain vitamins such as K2, B1, B2, B8 and B12 are produced, essential for energy metabolism, cell repair or the synthesis of new tissue. All this will favor good sports performance, maintenance of the musculoskeletal system, or increasing fertility.
aging is controlled
Microflora with an anti-inflammatory profile will help neutralize free radicals, which cause premature cell aging.
Why does intestinal flora change?
Keeping our intestinal flora in check seems like a challenge now, since we are at risk of our lives working against this balance.
Let’s look at the main enemies of our microbiota;
eating with inflammation
Saturated fats, excesses of animal products, refined sugars, industrial products, gluten, sodas, caffeine… The abuse of these foods will cause the microbiota to be unbalanced, promoting the growth of hostile bacterial colonies that will induce intestinal permeability, inflammation, and increase inflammation; alterations in the intestinal transit… If we add to all these microplastics diffused from mineral waters, or from marine animals whose habitats are more and more polluted, the negative impact on the intestinal flora is exponentially added.
antibiotics and chemotherapy
They are among the main causes of the destruction of the intestinal flora, and can also prevent the population of damaged species.
Cortisol spikes cause an increase in the secretion of the glands of the digestive tract, distension of the bile duct, disturbs peristalsis, weakens the cells of the intestines… Finally, it creates an inflammatory environment in the body that also affects the microbiota.
The polluted air we breathe, especially laden with ozone, with extra fine particles that are able to cross the bronchioloalveolar membranes, will enter the blood and be distributed throughout the body, causing changes in the cells where they are stored, including the intestinal microbiota.
The harmful substances you inhale every time you breathe will have repercussions beyond the respiratory tract. It causes the release of free radicals, which will favor an inflammatory state, reduced mucosal immunity, and intestinal vasoconstriction, which can increase blood flow to that area.
We have already seen that the microbiota has a circadian rhythm that will affect our biorhythm, and vice versa. Jobs with night shifts, jet lag, insomnia, and poor quality sleep also affect intestinal flora.
How to improve intestinal flora?
Even if you are one of the excellent digestives in harmony, you don’t have to worry about future disturbances if something unexpected happens in your life. Here are some good tips:
A healthy attitude
It is indicated in situations where stress is expected for the body, such as aggressive treatments, surgery or travel. They can also be used for the intestinal flora when it has already changed, or as a preventive remedy once or twice a year, for one month. The main ones are: probiotics, zinc, glutamine, vitamin D and polyphenols.
to bring back
It helps to control stress, maintain a robust immune system, promote the proliferation and diversification of beneficial bacterial colonies, and regulate intestinal transit.
Feeding us is essential, but resting our digestive system is also necessary. This allows intestinal cells to carry out the repair and regeneration of their machinery. Fasting for at least four hours, especially at night, would be enough to obtain this positive effect.
Science is advancing by leaps and bounds, and fecal transplants have already been shown to help restore intestinal flora in people with great difficulty doing so in other ways.
There is no doubt that the intestinal microbiota is the fundamental axis of our health, so it is important to follow proper eating habits and lifestyles, so that your body can perform at its full potential.