The intestinal microbiota

Whenever there is talk of microbiota, a group of microorganisms is referred to. These can inhabit different parts of the body such as skin, mouth, vagina, among others. Thus, The term intestinal microbiota refers to the set of microorganisms that inhabit the intestine.

The intestinal microbiota was formerly called "intestinal flora" or "intestinal microflora." Many experts approach it as a "new organ," which performs key functions for maintaining good health. At the moment it is known that it is closely related to growth, immunity and nutrition.

It is believed that alterations in the intestinal microbiota could shed light on such complex issues as obesity and asthma. There are also indications that it is related to gastrointestinal disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.

What is the intestinal microbiota?

The intestinal microbiota is the set of living microorganisms that inhabit the intestine. Its functions are decisive for health.

As already noted, The intestinal microbiota is the population of microbes that are housed in the intestine.It comprises 100 billion microorganisms, within which there are at least 1,000 species of bacteria. These have about 3 million genes.

The intestinal microbiota can weigh up to two kilograms. Only one third of the microbiota is common among humans. The remaining two thirds are specific to each person. The Human Microbiome project has identified only 30% of the intestinal microbiota.

Alterations of the microbiota are called “dysbiosis” and are associated with various diseases. Currently, many scientists around the world are working to decipher the genome of the microbiota and understand how far the influence of this new organ goes.

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Origin and Development

The microbiota begins to develop from the moment of birth, since the intestine of the fetus is sterile inside the mother's womb. The composition of the microbiota in the baby depends directly on the way it is fed. It is believed that its development stabilizes towards 3 years of age.

The intestinal microbiota continues to evolve throughout life. Your balance can be affected by multiple factors and, therefore, the microbiota of an older person is considerably different from that of a young adult or that of a child.

Various studies have shown that prebiotics and probiotics exert a positive influence on the microbiota. They favor the growth and activity of some good bacteria, as they act as nutrients for them. Both prebiotics and probiotics are found in fermented foods.

The importance of the intestinal microbiota

The intestinal microbiota is involved in nutrition functions, as well as in the immune system. Therefore, today is still investigating.

Many experts see the intestinal microbiota as a "metabolic organ," for the influence it exerts on nutrition functions, the regulation of the immune system and on systemic inflammation. All these functions are currently under investigation.

It has been verified that The microbiota helps the body to digest some substances that the small and large intestines are not able to process. It also influences the production of some important substances, such as vitamins B and K, and helps maintain the integrity of the intestinal mucosa.

On the other side, The microbiota acts as a natural barrier against pathogens, so it is essential in the functioning of the immune system. Also, it is believed that there is a close relationship between the macrobiota imbalance and Crohn's disease.

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Other data of interest

The characteristics of the diet and the genetic factors have a decisive influence on the composition of the intestinal microbiota. A study conducted with mice showed that only with a day of change in diet, the microbiota was also transformed in animals. In general, mice subjected to a western diet increased their weight rapidly.

At the beginning of life, there is a significant difference between the microbiota of babies who are breastfed and those who receive a formula. Everything indicates that this factor has an important impact on the development and balance of the microbiota in the future.

Bifidobacteria predominate in the first two years of life. After 3 years, the microbiota begins to diversify and reaches its maximum complexity in the adult organism.

In 1989, Strachan showed that there was a reduction in the microbial load in developed countries, due to high hygiene standards. It is believed that this precipitates the increase in immune diseases.