Most people today understand how important it is to take care of their stomachs. And, unlike a lot of other health fads, a diet and lifestyle that focuses on the stomach and gut flora is here to stay.
Gut health affects so many aspects of our well-being that it’s impossible to ignore. Our immune system is strengthened, our digestion is more effective, and more hormones are released that make us happy. The more we learn about the good bacteria in the gut, the better chance we have of making even better and healthier choices. In this article, we’ll share 10 exciting facts you didn’t know about your gut bacteria.
Even if the gut flora mostly consists of bacteria, it also contains other organisms such as archaeons, fungi and parasites. Your gut flora also contains bacteriophages – small viruses that infect specific bacteria. Since bacteriophages only infect certain bacteria, scientists are hopeful that we’ll be able to use them as targeted antibiotics in the future.
You have 150 times as many genes in your gut flora than you do human genes. Research shows that human DNA is 99.9% alike between two different individuals, and there are many indications that it’s the genes in our gut flora that contribute to the little difference between humans. Meaning the gut flora can influence our genetics and biological functions – in other words, the things that make you unique. But even if the DNA in your gut flora is unlike other people’s, it’s very similar to that of your mother and your siblings.
Thinking of a large ecosystem with a large number of different species of plants and animals will often make us think of the Amazon rainforest. But the fact is that the Amazon pales in comparison to your gut flora, which has far more biodiversity.
It’s easy to quickly rule out certain bacteria as being bad, for example, E. coli bacteria. But we actually also need these bacteria, as E. coli has a positive effect on digestion, among other things. The most important thing for our gut health is that the intestinal flora has a good balance between bacteria and other microorganisms.
Scientists are wary about calling gut flora an organ due to the fact they contain species of bacteria which don’t come from humans. However, gut flora can still be compared to an organ, and a very important one at that, as it affects the nervous system as well as the immune system and the endocrine system.
In principle, your gut flora don’t exist when you are born, rather they develop during your first 4-7 years of life. The development can be influenced by, among other things, what type of birth delivery you had, where you’ve lived, and what food you’ve eaten. These and several other factors are the basis of your gut flora and influence the way it is today.
Gut flora influences our mood, our happiness, our motivation, and can even influence how our nerves will function later in life. 90% of our serotonin, which is our happiness hormone, is produced by gut bacteria. This means gut flora can be said to function like the body’s second brain, with bacteria in the stomach constantly communicating with the brain and affecting your behaviour. In other words, you can really influence your psychological well-being through your diet.
Antibiotics can quickly change the composition of bacteria in the gut and thereby upset the balance of your gut flora. This can have consequences in both the short and long term as the good bacteria play a decisive role in digestion as well as your immune system. However, the stomach is surprisingly resistant, so even if antibiotics harm the gut flora, good diet can promote good bacteria and help the body to reset the balance of your gut flora.
Increased use of antibiotics, spending large parts of the day indoors and moving from the countryside to cities has caused those of us in the West to experience a decrease in the diversity of microorganisms we have in our guts. This development is worrying, as we’re still learning about how these microorganisms work and how important they are. The biggest danger is that we’re losing species that we don’t even realise are crucial to our health.
What you eat has the biggest influence on your gut flora. The stomach thrives on a varied diet which is mostly plant-based – this contributes to a greater diversity of good bacteria. The diversity of bacteria is decreasing over time and is also adversely affected by various lifestyle factors such as stress. Therefore, it’s important to avoid processed food that contains emulsifiers and other additives – these can harm your gut and lead to inflammation. An anti-inflammatory and fibre-rich diet helps you to maintain the balance and strengthen the good bacteria in your gut. It can also be beneficial to add in a synbiotic supplement that helps to strengthen the gut flora even more.
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