Gut Flora Definition, Function, and Why is it Important?

    Gut Flora Definition, Function, and Why is it Important?

    Most people might think that bacteria is harmful. But inside your digestive tract are lots of good bacteria that contribute to your digestion and your overall health. This bacteria together with other microorganisms found in the digestive tract compose our gut flora.

    Gut Flora: Definition

    Our gut flora is consist of all bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that reside in our digestive system, whether they are good or bad. Our bodies contain trillions of bacteria, and most of these bacteria can be found in our digestive tract.

    Scientists recently kept discovering and rediscovering the importance of having a healthy gut flora. Aside from playing a role in how we digest food, the gut flora is believed to affect lots of other bodily functions. Some even think that the gut flora is an additional organ, as its impact in our body’s processes is significant.

    Gut Flora: Function

    Our gut flora has a number of functions in our body, with scientists discovering more and more about it every day. Here are some of the functions that our gut flora has:

    Digestion

    First and foremost, the bacteria in the stomach play a large role when it comes to digestion. While the body produces the enzymes and the stomach acids needed to break down food, our gut flora manage their own activities through which our body benefits.

    In particular, bacteria help digest more complicated and complex carbohydrates. Some of the food that we eat “ferments” in our digestive tract, where it is broken down by bacteria. Once it is broken down into simpler particles, our body can readily absorb these as nutrients.

    Bacteria are also responsible for producing some vitamins our body needs. Bacteria in our gut are useful in synthesizing vitamin K, as well as different B vitamins.

    One example is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 or Cobalamin, which can not be synthesized by plants and animals to include humans, is created only by bacteria. This means that plants and animals rely indirectly on bacteria to obtain this vitamin. It then accumulates to tissues, and is being passed down to the consumer such as us humans.

    Protection from disease

    Another function of our gut flora is it aids in immunity. Some types of bacteria found in our digestive tract can stimulate immune cells, and help break down toxic compounds present in food and drink. Aside from this, the bacteria in our digestive tract can also fight off harmful bacteria that tries to invade and replace them.

    Having a healthy gut flora contributes to stronger immune systems in adulthood, and is particularly important during the development of our immune systems. This is why it is important for babies to develop a healthy gut flora early on in life.

    In fact, one procedure called fecal transplantation essentially takes good bacteria from another person’s gut and introduces it to another person’s. This can help treat conditions such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn disease, and other diseases that cause inflammation of the digestive tract.

    Gut-brain axis

    Another more recent discovery that was made is about the gut-brain axis. This is essentially a connection between our gut and our brain.

    Our gut actually houses the lesser known part of our body’s nervous system called the enteric nervous system. Its network of nerves, neurons and neurotransmitters extends from the esophagus through the stomach, small and large intestines, down to the anus

    The enteric nervous system has the same type of neurons and neurotransmitters found in the central nervous system. That is why some medical experts call it our “second brain”. This “second brain” found in our gut communicates with the brain and plays an important role with regards to certain diseases we experience, as well as in our overall mental health. Hence, it is possible that having a healthy gut flora can have an impact and improve our mental health as well as assist in our brain function.

    However, more research still needs to be done in this matter.

    How Do You Keep Your Gut Flora Healthy?

    Here are some ways to help improve your gut health and keep your gut flora healthy:

    • Eat probiotic foods, which are foods that contain live bacteria.
    • Also eat prebiotic foods, which help promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut.
    • Eat less red meat and fatty foods, as these can inhibit the growth of good bacteria.
    • Don’t take antibiotics unless they are prescribed. Antibiotics kill off both good and bad bacteria and can cause problems when taken without a prescription.
    • Be sure to get enough rest, and manage your stress. Being well-rested helps keep your gut flora healthy.

    By following these tips, you can ensure that your gut flora will remain strong and healthy.

    Learn more about Digestive Health here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Sources

    Bacteria in the Intestine, Helpful Residents or Enemies from Within? | Infection and Immunity, https://iai.asm.org/content/76/8/3360, Accessed March 1, 2021

    The Microbiome | The Nutrition Source | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/, Accessed March 1, 2021

    Gut Bacteria in Health and Disease, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3983973/, Accessed March 1, 2021

    Can gut bacteria improve your health? – Harvard Health, https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health, Accessed March 1, 2021

    Gut Bacteria, https://www.pcrm.org/health-topics/gut-bacteria, Accessed March 1, 2021

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    Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated Oct 24
    Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD