“Sometimes it’s the smallest things that take up the most room in your heart.” In this case, the smallest things take up the most room in your stomach. The human body is more than just skin, organs, bones and muscle; as most people know most of our operations are a result of a highly sophisticated set of cellular activities that are in constant work mode throughout the longevity of our lives. What most people don’t know is that in line with these cellular and molecular activities there exists trillions of invisible lodgers that happily inhabit our digestive system, skin, eyes, respiratory and excretory organs. These invisible inhabitants make up a happy ecosystem of macro-and micro-life, that help your body undergo its daily functions and allow it to survive.
According to Alan Simon, R.Ph. and author of The Human Intestinal Microflora and Probiotics, the largest colonies of micro-organisms live in our digestive system. The human intestinal microflora is a complicated ecosystem that is the primary regulator of the overall health of an individual. On average, a healthy adult will carry about 1.5 to 2 kg bacteria in the gut – and it’s not just “bad” bacteria that reside in our gut and that we’ve come so well acquainted with. Within the digestive tract there exists a highly organized society of micro-organisms with specific species that are dominant and in charge of controlling potential chaos. We recognize these species as the “good” bacteria and while they are primarily dominant over all the other bacteria in your body they are still sensitive to change and adverse factors; when your good bacteria falls a little behind, you generally start feeling it in the form of stomach aches, head pains, fatigue and a general feeling of unwellness.
The intestinal microflora is a positive and necessary health asset that is charged with the structural and functional development of our immune systems, says Ann M O’Hara and Fergus Shanahan writers for the Science Foundation of Ireland F.S. But what’s our gut have to do with our immune system and why do the bacteria generally congregate there? Well, micro-organisms such as bacteria interact more actively along mucosal surfaces – or areas with a high buildup of mucous. After the mouth, one of the largest areas of mucosal surfaces exists along the human intestine and digestive tract and for that reason alone, it makes it the best breeding ground for the bacteria in your body. Within your digestive tract the bacteria happily breeds and the intestine has adapted to harbor large amounts of microflora to create a relationship where both parties (you and the bacteria) have equal opportunity and benefits.
The bacteria in your body, while abundant, are not created equal. As you already know, there are “good” and “bad” bacteria that line your intestine, but the differences extend further than that. There’s a reason why we don’t sterilize our guts and rid of all the bacteria, their unique and properties and functions allow us to survive and live healthy lives. So who exactly are these happy campers in your intestine? Intestinal flora can be divided into three specific groups:
- Essential of Beneficial Flora
This group of microflora is the most important and most prevalent in any healthy body. Essential bacteria vastly outnumber its harmful counterparts and are recognized for its positive effects on your body.
- Opportunistic Flora
The opportunistic flora is a large group of various micro-organisms whose quantity varies dependent on the specific microbe group. There are 500 recognized species of opportunistic flora that can be found in a healthy human gut. This group of microflora is closely monitored by your essential bacteria because if they outnumber the latter, a plethora of health problems can occur.
- Transitional Flora
This group of bacteria can be found in the food and drinks that you consume everyday. Transitional Flora are generally harmless to your body, however if your digestive tract is not adequately protected by beneficial bacteria, then this group of micro-organisms can cause disease.
So why keep all this bacteria? At first the answer doesn’t seem obvious – after all, it’s bacteria, how good can it be for the body? As it turns out, the bacteria that line your digestive system is the sole reason we receive our nourishment and why a general healthy tract leads to an overall feeling of wellness. The human digestive system is a long tube that is open to the outside world from start to finish and if any harmful objects wanted to wreak havoc on our bodies, then the digestive system would be the place to go.
In order to prevent harmful chemicals and toxins from causing significant damage to our bodies, the human digestive tract is lined with a plethora of the groups of bacteria listed above. This bacterial layer provides a thick barrier against invaders, undigested foods, toxins and parasites. Aside from creating a layer, the bacteria in your tract also provides antibiotic, anti-fungal and anti-viral effects against adverse viruses, bacteria or fungi. Working together with your immune system, healthy bacteria creates a powerful offensive force meant to keep your body strong.
In addition to its protective properties, the bacteria in your lining are also responsible for the nourishment of your body. Every piece of food that goes through your digestive tract is quickly digested by the beneficial bacteria and converted into nourishing substances for your body. Should this sensitive environment of bacteria be disturbed, then your body is no longer able to absorb and digest food properly, it’s why whenever you have food poisoning you adopt flu-like symptoms and your body expels everything in its system.
Small changes in lifestyle can prove a negative impact on your digestive system or specifically the bacteria that reside within. Understanding how greatly these micro-organisms affect you is just the midway point in knowing how to keep a healthy and happy immune system. Studies have shown that the presence of bacteria (healthy ones at least) are the primary contributors to a healthy individual. Because of the sensitive nature of our internal microflora it’s important to recognize proper maintenance of our friendly microbes. Consuming probiotics are the most effective and easiest way to maintain a healthy amount of essential flora. Whether it is in the form of a capsule or in a cup of yogurt, try to make it a habitual part of your daily routine. It can be the difference between a sick day and a day free of ailments.
Kiani, Leila. “CSA – Discovery Guides, How Probiotics Keep Us Healthy.” CSA – Discovery Guides, How Probiotics Keep Us Healthy. Pro Quest, Sept. 2006. Web
Nobaek S, Johansson ML, Molin G, Ahrné S, Jeppsson B.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 2000. Web.
Ann M O’Hara, Fergus Shanahan. “The gut flora as a forgotten organ” Embo Reports. U.S National Library of Medicine, July 2006. Web.
Simon, Alan R.Ph. The Human Intestinal Microflora and Probiotics. Integrative Rx Pharmacy, 2000. PDF