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RE: Health and Gut Bacteria

February 10, 2014, 5:00 am

You hear about yogurt with bacteria, the benefits of “healthy bacteria,” and even supplements with strands of bacteria to benefit gut health. But what's the story behind incorporating bacteria into your health and wellness plan? The first thing to keep in mind is that the body contains over 4 pounds of 100 trillion microbes with over 500 different species, roughly 100 times that of actual human cells. That is a lot! Through the course of human evolution, we have formed a relationship with the bacteria in our bodies that make us dependent on them, without them - we fall ill and could die. However, the right mix of bacteria is also key. Too much of any good thing is a bad thing, right?

A balanced and healthy gut is characterized by bacterial communities that are rich and diverse, offering optimal health benefits to the host (YOU!). An imbalanced gut microbiota, on the other hand, is one that has been suggested to have negative effects regarding obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases, and immunity concerns. Though research is still emerging, known functions of the gut bacteria are correlated with almost every major function in human metabolism.

The bacteria in the gut promote the ability to degrade non-digestible foodstuffs such as certain fibers found in food. In addition, these bacteria are also able to influence the physiology of the host through working with human genes involved in nutrient absorption, immune function, and GI inflammation. In addition, bacteria in the colon are able to resist colonization by new strains of bacteria that may appear foreign or dangerous. Therefore, it has been hypothesized that a diverse and enriched gut microbiota can protect against pathogens and may help to prevent chronic disease.

Gut bacteria can also help to produce amino acids (pieces of proteins); helps to metabolize cholesterol, and produce both biotin and vitamins K. The bacteria within the colon also help to make short-chain fatty acids from fermentation of digestible fiber, which provide energy to the host.

When the bacteria within the gut come into contact with food (and the breakdown of), compounds are released that have effects inside the body including antioxidant, anti-cancer, and hypotensive properties. Furthermore, the type of food may promote growth of a certain bacterial species in the gut altogether. The diversity and quantity of the microbiota have an effect on the metabolism of consumed foodstuffs before the nutrients ingested reach various body tissues.Diet plays such an integral role in the development of the host bacteria from birth and throughout life. It appears that early exposure to a microbial environment is essential for the appropriate development of mechanisms that protect against inflammatory, autoimmune, and chronic diseases in the host. The method of birth, country of origin, maturation, and perinatal antibiotics all greatly influence the bacterial composition of the infant.

As the host develops, the ecosystem being created by the bacteria inside the gut begin to evolve and develop as well, forming a symbiotic relationship making it nearly impossible for the either to survive otherwise. With a goal of creating a rich, diverse, and balanced environment, the bacterial environment is altered by a plethora of factors including dietary patterns and the host environment. When imbalance occurs, a multitude of disease states may, as well. Though some information has been uncovered in the areas of obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and immunity, none have been explored fully to the point of treatment. Though it is not always necessary to incorporate additional bacteria into your gut through pro- and pre-biotic supplements and foods, talking with your personal dietitian or physician is best to decide what is right for you.

Happy Eating!

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