5 key questions about the gut microbiota

The term intestinal microbiota refers to the set of microbes that inhabit our intestines, among which bacteria mainly stand out, but also some protozoa, viruses, fungi, etc.

The term intestinal flora is also often used, although towards the end of the 90s it became obsolete, considering that this set of living microorganisms is much more than a conglomerate of bacteria, and that it fulfills vital functions for human health.

For its part, the term human microbiome refers to the set formed by microorganisms, along with their genes and metabolites, that inhabit the human body, including the gastrointestinal, genitourinary, oral cavity, nasopharynx, respiratory tract, and skin. .

What does it perform?

Due to its wide number of functions, the intestinal microbiota is considered as one more organ of our body, of vital importance for the balance of our health.

Many of its functions are related to digestion, maturation and maintenance of our immune system, emotion management, stress management, behavior control, etc.

The most well-known function of the microbiota is the collaboration in the process of digestion and assimilation of the ingested nutrients with food, including vitamins and fiber. It participates in the production of energy, vitamin K, folic acid and short-chain fatty acids, among them butyrate, considered as the most promising compound for its high antitumor potential and its key role in the behavior of the intestine.

Also, the ability of the microbiota to intervene in processes of homeostasis and immunity of the intestine is widely known, constituting an important defense barrier, protecting us against antigens and pathogenic germs.

Why is the intestine known as the second line of defense?

Throughout the entire gastrointestinal tract there is what is known as intestinal-associated lymphoid tissue, which represents 80% of our defenses. And it is no coincidence that all these living microorganisms that fulfill so many different functions and are so essential to our health are in the same location. Therefore, maintaining a healthy intestinal microbiota protects against numerous diseases.

The truth is that the abandonment of healthy habits, such as natural and homemade food or physical activity, and its replacement by harmful behaviors such as tobacco, excess alcohol, sedentary lifestyle and living with excessive levels of stress, affects balance from our microbiota and we get sick.

And what happens when the microbiota is altered?

What is known as dysbiosis appears and as a consequence we can suffer digestive disorders, bloating, heartburn, gas, constipation, diarrhea, heavy digestions as well as more serious diseases: obesity, asthma, allergies, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, depression, stress, cancer , among other.

What factors influence its composition and functions?

The microbiota is affected by many factors, among which we can mention diet, physical exercise, alcohol consumption, unhealthy habits such as smoking, hygienic habits, diseases and disorders of all kinds, the intake of drugs (especially antibiotics) , age, sex, birth form, genetics, etc.

The balance and composition of our intestinal flora will depend on the way we reach the world (if it was by natural delivery or cesarean section) and the type of food we receive (if it was exclusive breastfeeding or formula milk). The time of gestation and our weight at birth also influence, such as the socioeconomic conditions of the moment.

Between our second and third year of life, sometimes even the fifth year, the gut microbiota reaches its maximum development to remain stable throughout the rest of childhood and adulthood. This is why, depending on all these factors, we can develop a healthy or altered microbiota that predisposes us to diseases such as obesity, autoimmune pathologies (such as Crohn's Disease and Ulcerative Colitis), allergies, among others.

In this way, we can affirm that having a healthy style before conception and during pregnancy, a pregnancy with controlled stress levels, characterized by a good rest and a good diet, as well as a natural delivery (whenever possible), away from the medication and exclusive breastfeeding during the first 6 months of the baby's life, they are crucial factors for the formation of a healthy intestinal microbiota.