Why is the bacteria in our digestive system so important? And what exactly is gut flora? In this article, we will discuss the origin of your intestinal flora, the different types of intestinal bacteria and their function, and will go over ways you can create a favourable environment for your gut flora to flourish.
Bacteria have long had a bad reputation and have historically been associated with infection and disease. But we now know that our bodies are full of bacteria – mostly good bacteria but also bad – and they are found on our skin, the genital area and in our respiratory tract. A large portion of the bacteria in the body is found in the gut, more specifically, the gastrointestinal tract. There are about 100,000 billion bacteria living here that together weigh between 1.5-2 kilograms. Collectively, these bacteria form our gut flora, also called our microbiota.
The foundation for our gut flora is laid in the first four years of life. The first bacteria is inherited from our mother at birth and later through our mother’s milk. As we are exposed to new environments and new people, the gut flora grows and slowly adds more bacterial species and strains. The gut flora ultimately becomes an individual group of bacteria that is so unique and person-specific that, in principle, you could identify a person through an analysis of their stool.
However, the gut flora is constantly changing, and the intestinal mucosa is renewed as often as every three days. Poor diet, antibiotics or exposure to new bacteria (for example, in connection with overseas travel) are a few things that can alter the gut flora composition.
There are many different types of bacteria, and they can be divided in a number of ways, including into different species and strains. And it is also common to hear people talk about “good” and “bad” bacteria. There are also neutral bacteria that are neither good nor bad but that play an important role in our digestion.
Lactic acid bacteria are a type of good bacteria that are commonly found in probiotic supplements and in various types of dairy products. Despite the name, lactic acid bacteria have nothing to do with milk. These bacteria got their name based on their ability to ferment a variety of sugars and convert them into lactic acid.
In order to create an environment that is favourable for the good gut bacteria, you need to consider several factors. For example, it is important that your intestinal pH is not too high, as the good bacteria flourish in an acidic environment. If the intestinal pH gets too high, it allows the bad bacteria to multiply and take over since the good bacteria do not have the chance to flourish – this creates an imbalance in the gut flora, also called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis can be caused by things like poor diet, antibiotics and long-term constipation.
In order to keep your gut flora in balance, there are several things you need to keep in mind: