Did you know that some 38 billion bacteria of different species that make up the human microbiota live in our body? These microorganisms are practically equivalent to the number of cells in the body, according to a study published in PLoS Biology, and their total mass is about 2 kg. Therefore, far from being harmful, they perform essential functions for our health.
What is the gut microbiota?
The microbiota is the set of microorganisms that inhabit our body, fundamentally in the skin, the digestive system and the genital apparatus . These bacteria colonize our body after birth, as soon as we leave the womb. They usually colonize the skin first and then the oropharynx, the digestive system and other mucous membranes.
The intestinal microbiota, previously known as intestinal flora, refers to the specific set of living microorganisms found in our intestine . These bacteria are not only beneficial for our digestive health, but also perform other vital functions in our body.
Functions of the gut microbiota
- Protects from pathogenic bacteria that can cause disease. The microbiota acts as a barrier that protects us from the action of pathogenic microorganisms. It secretes antimicrobial substances and acidifies the environment to eliminate harmful microorganisms, thus maintaining the integrity of the mucosa and helping to prevent infection.
- Strengthens the function of the immune system. Much of the functioning of the immune system depends on the intestinal microbiota. This not only exerts a modulating function by helping to recognize aggressive microorganisms, but also promotes the production of mediators to increase the effectiveness of the immune response and activates the processes responsible for maintaining immune intestinal homeostasis.
- Contributes to the digestion of food . The intestinal microbiota also facilitates the digestion of some food components that our body cannot metabolize on its own. As a result, we can recover metabolic energy and synthesize vitamins such as K and B12, also producing other useful substances that help regulate cholesterol and glucose levels.
Diseases related to the intestinal microbiota
The health of our microbiome depends on numerous factors , including a varied and healthy diet. Bad lifestyle habits, stress, environmental pollution and excessive consumption of antibiotics, for example, can affect the composition of the human intestinal microbiota.
When the normal microbiota is altered and an imbalance between the different bacterial strains occurs, our health will pay the consequences . The most common is to suffer intestinal discomfort, headaches and loss of energy, but in some cases the clinical picture can be more complex.
The alteration of the microbiota exposes us to a greater risk of suffering from infections and developing diseases with an autoimmune component , such as multiple sclerosis or celiac disease. It has also been linked to the appearance of allergies, inflammatory bowel diseases, irritable bowel syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver. In addition, it has been linked to problems such as obesity, diabetes, some types of digestive cancers, fibromyalgia, and even neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s.
How to train in intestinal microbiota?
The latest research carried out in the clinical field has highlighted the importance of paying more attention to the human microbiota, as well as the need to care for and improve the intestinal microbiota.
In the medical field, the digestologist or gastroenterologist is the main specialist in intestinal microbiota. This professional is responsible for evaluating the functioning of the digestive system, including the composition and functions of the intestinal microbiota.
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