About Gut Microbiome
Your gut is much more powerful than you may realize. There is a whole world of tiny creatures living inside your gastrointestinal tract. Don’t worry, they will not harm you. In fact, these microorganisms are here to protect you and give you a healthier lifestyle, if you take care of them. So what exactly are these colonies of bacteria that reside in our gut? There are around one hundred trillion bacterial cells in our digestive tract – this includes both good and bad bacteria. This number even exceeds the number of human cells present in the body. (That’s pretty interesting, if you ask us!).
These colonies (flora) form a complex system that directly causes changes in our physical and mental health. Whatever we put into our body – foods, beverages, substances, are taken up by these microbes and if we are not mindful, it can cause major imbalances. Gut health is related to the immune system, digestion, metabolism, the endocrine system, skin health, autoimmunity and mental wellness. The various species of bacteria in the intestines help absorb nutrients from food more effectively. They convert them into forms that are easily digestible and some even produce essential vitamins and minerals, like vitamin K (1).
Role Of Gut Health In Diseases
The intestinal bacteria play a significant role in protecting us from diseases in a number of ways. The cells of the lining of the intestine are one of the lines of defense for the immune system. To protect it, the gut flora produces antimicrobial compounds to kill any pathogen that may enter. If it does enter, the good bacteria compete with the bad bacteria for resources like nutrients. In a healthy gut, the beneficial microbes outnumber the pathogenic cells and thus, they would ultimately win. The risk of certain conditions is increased with an unhealthy gut (2).
Some of the most common ones include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome: The gut microbes are effective against toxic bacteria present in the digestive tract which cause IBS. It also reduces the amount of inflammation in the gut.
- Systemic metabolic diseases: These include diseases like diabetes (type 2) and metabolic disorders. Those with obesity have a varied composition of gut microbes and diabetes has a similar correlation too.
- Allergic disorders: Disorders like asthma, food intolerances and eczema are influenced by an overreaction of the immune system, which can be due to a lack in diversity of microflora.
Antibiotics And Gut Health
It seems like now-a-days there is a pill for everything. Have a headache? Take paracetamol. Got a cold? Pop a Dolo. Feeling low? How about an antidepressant? By saying this, we are not trying to defame medication. The field of research and medicine has come a long way in keeping us healthy. However, it is often abused without considering the possible ill-effects. When we take over-the-counter antibiotics without the use of a probiotic supplement, it can have serious repercussions on our gut. Antibiotics target both the harmful and useful bacteria in the digestive tract. This means that our healthy microflora will be depleted which disturbs the natural homeostasis of the gut – this drastically brings down immunity and can lead to the illnesses we previously discussed. In recent years, a major issue faced in the medicinal world is antibiotic resistance and the formation of ‘superbugs’. Antibiotics eliminate the weaker strains of bacteria in the gut but some of these species have genes that provide resistance against the action of medicines. These grow rapidly in the gut and the next time one falls ill, they may find that the same antibiotics do not work for them.
Ways To Reduce The Effect Of Antibiotics
To maintain harmony between these creatures living inside us, we should first target our lifestyle. Exercise, adequate hydration, sleep and nutrition are crucial for gut health. We can include prebiotics like fermented foods and fiber-rich foods into our diets. Antibiotics should be kept as a last resort and even when required, should not be taken more than twice in a year. If you are on prescribed antibiotics, ensure that a probiotic supplement is given as well. This can even be continued after your dosage of antibiotics is over.
Like the rest of our body, the gut hosts species of microbes that are unique to us. Every part of our body is in delicate balance with each other, which is essential to staying healthy. Hence, having a strong gut boils down to making small changes that work for you every day!