How to Improve or Restore Intestinal Flora
If you care about your health and body well-being, you have likely observed that many food products, especially those intended to promote healthy lifestyles, report on their packaging the benefits of their ingredients for the health of the intestinal flora. If you have ever wondered why this information is tacitly specified, we must tell you that it is not a simple advertising claim. Let’s see how to Improve or Restore the Intestinal Flora or Gut Microbiome and the reasons caused it!
Generally, due to ignorance, we do not give the intestinal flora the importance it deserves. Therefore, in this article, we are going to let you know what it is and how to take care of your microbiome, since, in addition to being essential for the proper functioning of the digestive system, it plays a decisive role in the prevention of diseases.
If we have managed to arouse your curiosity, we encourage you to finish reading, you will discover the health benefits of keeping this part of the body in balance.
What is the Macrobiotics or Intestinal Flora or Gut Microbiome?
It is estimated that there are approximately 2000 bacterial species in our body. It is estimated that there are approximately 2000 bacterial species in our body. Only 100 of these species can cause serious infections, the rest are beneficial to our health. Well, the set of living bacteria or microorganisms that are housed in our intestines, mainly in the colon, is what we know as intestinal flora.
In our body, there are more than 100 billion bacteria and 90% of them are located in the intestine, forming an ecosystem that coexists in perfect harmony with our body and from which we mutually benefit. These microorganisms can weigh more than 1 kilogram and not only act as a key organ for the immune system, they are also essential for the proper development of organs and metabolism.
How is the Intestinal Flora Formed?
Although the intestinal flora acts as an organ and is a crucial factor for proper development and health throughout life, our body does not have the ability to create it, it acquires it from the outside, so its composition is different in each person.
When we are born, our intestines are free of bacteria. The first intestinal microorganisms that a newborn acquires come from the bacteria that the mother transfers from the birth canal. The baby’s microbiota is shaped during the first two years of life, reaching maturity at three years of age in and its composition influences the type of breastfeeding (maternal or artificial) and the environment.
Once the intestinal bacterial flora has matured, the amount of living microorganisms in the intestine fluctuates throughout our lives depending on external factors such as the type of diet, hormonal changes, age, certain diseases, the consumption of antibiotics, and of healthy habits of life that we adopt.
Similarly, the amount and its composition are not the same throughout the digestive system. The stomach is where the least number of bacteria are found due to its acidic pH. As we move through the intestine, their number increases until we reach the colon, which is where almost 85% of intestinal bacteria are concentrated.
What are the Functions of the Intestinal Flora?
That most of the bacteria that make up our intestinal flora are located in the colon is not pure chance. Due to its own physiology, we are in the area of our body most susceptible to infection, and, not in vain, the digestive system is considered the cradle of the immune system.
The intestinal flora not only prevents the invasion of harmful germs and prevents intestinal infections, but it is also responsible for keeping our immune system alert, stimulating the production of defenses in response to the presence of the small percentage of pathogenic bacteria that are concentrated in the colon.
As a true ally for our health, the intestinal microbiota fulfills different functions, all of them of great importance for the health and correct functioning of our organs:
- Nutrition and metabolism functions
- Protection functions
- Trophic functions
Metabolic and Nutritional Functions
The flora is responsible for metabolizing non-digestible dietary waste, gastric mucosa, and cellular detritus (waste that comes from organic decomposition).
This function is possible thanks to the fact that the community of bacteria that our microbiome is composed of has the ability to create a great variety of enzymes and biochemical agents different from the own resources of our organs:
The carbohydrates that are not digested by the body ferment in the cecum and colon and are an important energy source for bacterial growth.
It produces short-chain fatty acids that we can absorb, which translates into a greater recovery of energy from food and favors the absorption of calcium, iron, and magnesium.
The metabolic functions include the production of vitamins K, B12, biotin, folic acid, and pantothenic acid and amino acid synthesis from ammonia or urea.
The protective function of the microflora acts with a “barrier” effect due to the ability of certain bacteria to produce antimicrobial substances that inhibit the growth of other bacteria. There is also a competition between these microorganisms for the resources (nutrients or ecological spaces) of their own ecosystem.
As a result of this protective barrier, the balance and stability of the different bacterial species that make up the ecosystem of the intestinal flora are produced, since the bacteria that occupy a space not only prevent foreign microorganisms from implanting in their habitat, they also prevent proliferation. of other opportunistic microorganisms that are present in the intestine.
- This function of the intestinal flora has two different mechanisms of action:
- On the cells of the intestinal epithelium: the short-chain fatty acids produced by intestinal bacteria strengthen the epithelial cells (enterocytes) that are responsible for:
- Transport water and electrolytes into the body
- They facilitate the absorption of essential nutrients
- They favor the secretion of protein in the intestinal lumen.
- In this way, it prevents excessive permeability of the epithelium from occurring and prevents the passage of harmful microorganisms into the bloodstream.
About the immune tissue: The digestive system is the main route that our body has for the entry of antigens, so it is not surprising that the intestinal immune system is the most extensive part of our immune system. The intestinal bacterial flora is responsible for differentiating harmless microorganisms from potentially dangerous ones, therefore, it is decisive for the development and maturation of our immune system.
How does the Correct Balance of the Intestinal Flora Benefit Us?
The well-being of our body depends on the balance of this complex ecosystem:
- Improves intestinal transit, digestion and helps avoid gas and constipation.
- It is essential for the synthesis of compounds such as vitamin K and some B complex vitamins.
- It favors lactose tolerance since it degrades the part ingested and contributes to making up for the lactase deficiency that intolerant people have.
- It helps to absorb calcium since producing lactic acid creates the right medium for its assimilation.
- Protects the liver by having the ability to neutralize certain harmful substances.
- Helps prevent colon cancer thanks to the use of fiber from food.
What Can Alter the Balance of the Intestinal Flora?
The intestinal flora is a fragile ecosystem that can be altered by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors.
- Intrinsic Factors
Among the intrinsic factors that can kill damaged intestinal flora are:
- The composition of our intestinal flora.
- Genetic predisposition
- The type of our intestinal secretions.
- Gastrointestinal disorders such as polyps, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, etc. They can be acute disorders such as traveler’s diarrhea or chronic, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
- Age, since from the age of 60 there is a notable decrease in beneficial bacteria.
- Allergies or intolerances can manifest with abdominal pain, diarrhea, or constipation.
- Extrinsic Factors
Extrinsic factors are those that derive from our own actions and, therefore, we have the power to control and correct. Among the main extrinsic causes that originate the imbalance of the intestinal microbiota are:
Not following a healthy and balanced diet: By not receiving the antioxidant properties of its polyphenols, the low consumption of fruits and vegetables can alter the intestinal flora. Similarly, the intake of foods rich in fiber favors the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria; Not consuming enough fiber also causes this imbalance. On the other hand, excessive consumption of protein of animal origin (especially red meat and processed meat) contributes to the deterioration of the intestinal flora by causing an inflammatory and carcinogenic effect that affects the intestinal barrier and causes DNA damage.
Having bad lifestyle habits: A sedentary lifestyle and being overweight are factors that can cause you to destroy the damaged intestinal flora. Regardless of diet, physical exercise increases microbial diversity and can promote intestinal health, reducing the risk of chronic diseases. The consumption of tobacco or alcohol also influences the variety of microorganisms that colonize our intestine, causing the decrease or increase of one or the other and, as a consequence, contribute to breaking its balance.
Antibiotics: Antibiotics have the mission of eliminating bacteria that are the cause of pathology. So far everything is fine, but by not differentiating harmful bacteria from healthy ones, they also attack the bacteria of the intestinal flora, causing their reduction and affecting their functionality. This explains why one of the side effects of antibiotics is diarrhea.
The continued use of laxatives, sudden changes in diet (for example during a trip), insomnia and stress, are also factors that can cause you to end up with altered intestinal flora.
Consequences of the Imbalance of the Intestinal Microbiota (Dysbiosis)
Dysbiosis is the term used to refer to the imbalance, both in the amount and in the proportion, of bacteria existing in the intestinal flora. These alterations are associated with irregular organic processes, although they can sometimes lead to more serious pathological processes.
The most common consequences are digestive disorders. But, it has also been related to the following pathologies:
- Digestive discomfort (flatulence or abdominal pain)
- Pseudomembranous colitis.
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
- Autoimmune diseases.
- Allergic and atopic diseases.
- Colon and liver cancer
- Metabolic syndrome
How to Improve the Intestinal Microbiota?
You will have already concluded that both diet and physical activity are two fundamental pillars for the good health of our microbiome. However, there are foods that, due to their content in probiotics and prebiotics, are considered to be true allies for damaged intestinal flora. Let’s see what these concepts are:
Prebiotics are substances that are present in some foods. Generally, these substances are composed of carbohydrates that our body is not able to digest (lactulose, dietary fiber, fructooligosaccharides, and inulin) and, since they serve as food for the beneficial intestinal bacteria in the intestine, they have the ability to stimulate their growth. and/or its activity.
In addition, the fermentation of prebiotics generates short-chain fatty acids that inhibit the growth of pathogenic organisms. These molecules are present mainly in foods of plant origin: garlic, onion, artichokes, bananas, corn, honey, soybeans, wheat, leeks, spinach, oats … they constitute a natural source of prebiotics.
Prebiotics can also be used by the food industry to give rise to what we currently know as functional foods. Among these foods are enriched yogurts and dairy, fortified cereals, fermented milk …
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines probiotics as those living microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate quantities, cause beneficial effects on the health of the organism that receives them.
Our microbiome is made up of living microorganisms whose function is to regulate our intestinal health and prevent the development of diseases. When we eat foods with probiotics, what we are doing is helping to increase the number of these microorganisms for the benefit of our health, helping to strengthen the bacterial ecosystem and maintain the balance of the microbiota.
Types of Probiotic Bacteria
Although there are a large number of microorganisms considered probiotics, the most widely used are the Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium groups. Both groups of microorganisms have become a prophylactic and therapeutic option widely considered by the scientific community to respond to different gastrointestinal and systemic problems, including lactose intolerance, diarrhea, and food allergies.
- Bifidobacteria: Although this group of bacteria normally lives in the intestines, they can be cultivated outside the body to later be consumed as supplements or medicines. Bifidobacteria belong to a group of bacteria called lactic acid and are found in fermented foods like yogurt and cheese.
- Lactobacilli: They are also present in foods such as yogurt and dietary supplements. Since all lactobacilli are not the same, the quality of certain dietary supplements can be questioned, the labeling of these products must specify the species of lactobacillus and its effect (diarrhea, to avoid reactions to antibiotics, for cystic fibrosis, or for preventing any pathology) since its quality and effectiveness will depend on it.
Foods Rich in Natural Probiotics
Probiotics are found in many foods and beverages that have undergone a fermentation process. Some of them are:
- Yogurt: It is the most popular and consumed probiotic food, but not all of them are worth it. It must be natural and not pasteurized.
- Raw cheese: For a cheese to be rich in probiotics, it must be made from raw, unpasteurized milk.
- Kefir: It is a fermented dairy product similar to liquid yogurt. It is considered one of the richest foods in natural probiotics.
- Olives and pickles
- Sauerkraut: It is a fermented cabbage typical of German cuisine that must be consumed raw to obtain its benefits.
- Kombucha: It is a fermented drink based on green or black tea that contains a great variety of microorganisms.
- Buttermilk: It is a type of fermented milk similar to liquid yogurt, very popular in Holland and Germany.
In addition to introducing these microorganisms into our intestinal flora through food, there are food supplements in capsules, liquids, or powders that are formulated with natural probiotics and that are generally used as supplements that help regenerate the intestinal flora in situations of stress, changes hormonal or prolonged use of antibiotics.
How Improve or Restore the Balance of the Intestinal Flora
We have the power to regulate the microbiota voluntarily, but we have to do it correctly so as not to alter the symbiosis (relationship of mutual benefit) between bacteria and the intestine.
To achieve this harmony, it is important to follow a varied diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seeds. Ideally, you should include foods rich in fiber and high in probiotics and prebiotics that help you maintain the health of your intestinal microbiota.
In the same way, leading a healthy lifestyle where you avoid alcohol and tobacco consumption, get enough rest, avoid stressful situations and carry out some physical activity regularly are the most effective recommendations to be able to guarantee the correct functioning of this important bacterial ecosystem.