What Is Gut Flora?

How often? do you show love to your gut?

Normally, we believe that microorganisms that live over or inside the human body are harmful in nature as many of the deadly human diseases like Cholera, Leprosy, Anthrax, Syphilis, and Plague, and so on are caused by these tiny creatures especially by bacteria. Although it is a fact that these invisible microorganisms including bacteria have taken a toll on human health it is not the complete truth. 

There is another side to the story and that is many cousins of these microorganisms and bacteria are actually beneficial for our health. Though many of us will not believe the positive aspect of bacteria it can’t be denied that thousands of bacteria live in our digestive tract or digestive cavity where they are benefitting us by facilitating digestion and carrying out other vital functions.

The microorganisms present in our digestive cavity are known as human gastrointestinal microbiota and gut flora/gut microbiota. These microorganisms predominantly include bacteria and members of the Archea Kingdom. In the gut, mostly gut flora is present in the stomach and intestinal area. Gut flora is also present in most of the other animals and even in insects where they perform certain important functions for the host.

In humans too, these gut flora impact human health positively by performing certain vital functions. The following is a brief list of the important functions of our gut flora.

Gut Flora is essential for a healthy immune system!

  • Keeping Pathogens at Bay: Gut flora fully occupies space of the digestive tract and consumes almost all of the available resources and nutrients. Therefore they defend against pathogens by denying them space and nutrients. Also, gut flora secretes chemicals which either kill any prospective parasite or inhibit their further growth in the gut area.
  • Strengthening the Immune System: Besides directly combating pathogens, gut flora also supports the immune response in the digestive tract. Different strains of gut bacteria induce the production of different cytokines. Cytokines are chemical compounds produced by our immune system for initiating an inflammatory response (a defensive mechanism) against infections. Gut flora also regulates the production of antibodies-defensive proteins. For example, gut flora increases the production of the IgA antibody. IgA antibody is very effective in killing harmful pathogens in the mucosal environment (like gut). Besides. IgA also maintains a healthy environment between the host and gut bacteria. IgA is also known for diversifying the bacterial community of the gut. Cytokines and IgA produced in the gut also affect immunity positively in other organs like lungs.

A healthy Gut Flora will speed up your metabolism!

The metabolites produced by gut bacteria can affect the production of some other immune cells. For example, certain strains of gut bacteria produce short-chain fatty acids during fermentation. These short-chain fatty acid molecules increase the production of innate immune cells like neutrophils, eosinophils, and basophils. These innate immune cells help protect the body against infectious diseases by localizing infections.

  • Helps in Metabolism: Gut flora helps in the metabolism of certain nutrients like carbohydrates. Humans cannot digest certain starches, oligosaccharides, fiber, and sugars without the help of gut flora. Without gut flora, humans might lose some of these important nutrients. The gut bacteria turn these non-digestible foods into useful products like acetic acid, propionic acid, and butyric acid by the process of fermentation. Acetic acid is used by muscle, propionic acid facilitates liver production of ATP, and butyric acid provides energy to gut cells. 

Gut bacteria also facilitates digestion by producing certain digestive enzymes that humans cannot make on their own. A lab study has shown that without gut bacteria, mice consumed roughly thirty percent more calories than their counterparts with gut bacteria.

Besides facilitating digesting, certain species of gut flora also synthesize other useful products like vitamins (biotin, folate). Also, gut flora facilitates the absorption of dietary minerals like iron, calcium, and magnesium. 

  • Gut Flora and General Health: Gut flora has also several health benefits for example in case of imbalance between healthy and unhealthy gut bacteria (a condition called dysbiosis) may lead to weight gain and conversely, a healthy balance between the two contributes to weight loss. Similarly, gut bacteria also affect your gut health. Good gut bacteria help treat symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and certain strains of them like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli fill the gap between intestinal cells and thus preventing the leaky gut syndrome. Also, Lactobacilli improve heart health by lowering down blood cholesterol levels.

Healthy gut flora can even prevent diabetes!

Gut flora also lowers the risk of both type 1 and 2 diabetes as they control blood sugar. For example, in a study, it was found that prior to the onset of type 1, diversity of gut flora was dropped and the number of unhealthy bacterial species increased. 

In summary, show your gut some love!

Finally, gut flora may also support brain health. Certain bacterial species produce neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are also known as chemical messengers and these are chemical compounds that facilitate information exchange between nerve cells. Besides, gut flora may also affect brain health by help controlling the messages that are sent to the brain from the gut as the gut is predominantly inhabited by gut flora. Several studies have shown that people with various psychological disorders have different species of bacteria as compared to healthy people.

Some of the research studies have also shown that certain probiotics species can improve symptoms of depression but however more research is needed to fully explore the relationship between gut flora and brain health.