As humans, we live in symbiosis with both each other and millions of other organisms both around us and within us. Some microorganisms of these microorganisms are detrimental to our health and should be eradicated from our environment, whilst a huge proportion are beneficial to our health and well-being and should be nurtured.
The human digestive tract, particularly the lower intestines, host an enormous ecosystem of microorganisms, including viruses, fungi and bacteria which make up the gut microbiome. The huge surface area of the digestive tract is approx. 300 sq m (about the area of 2 tennis courts) and is the part of the body with the most direct contact with the outside world. The tract is incredibly susceptible to colonisation by a huge range of bacteria and the average human has at least 2 kg of bacteria in their guts alone. Most of the bacteria live in the lower digestive tract as the upper tract has contact with the stomach’ s digestive juices that are extremely acidic, and bile salts.
Initial colonisation takes place at birth as we pass through the vaginal canal of our mothers. As we are born, the bacteria in our mother’s body, mostly Bifidobactera, populate our gut. Those born by Cesarean section are exposed to skin bacteria instead so don’t get the benefit of populating their gut with beneficial bacteria during the birthing process. Whilst in adult life, 10% of intestinal flora are Bifidobacteria, through breast-feeding, 95% of all bacteria in the newborn’s gut are Bifidobacteria. Babies that are bottle-fed have less developed gut flora as they are less exposed to these beneficial bacteria and this can affect their immune system.
As we grow older and develop, we are exposed to more bacteria via contact with different humans, animals and foods, the intestinal flora changes. Each person has their own unique microbial footprint. So far, the Human Microbiome Project(1) have identified about 1000 different species of gut microflora over many different phyla. This is a huge ecosystem within you, which is almost as diverse and dense as the Amazon rainforest. Balance within this ecosystem is influenced by our actions and this balance maintains biodiversity to create health and wellbeing. Imbalance reduces diversity and creates illness.
Our gut microbiome is essential for balancing day to day body functions via both their metabolic activity and impact on the immune system. This system requires delicate balance to maintain optimal health and well-being and any imbalance could have a profound impact on our weight, health and quality of life. Imbalance of lack of biodiversity of the gut microbiome from nutrition and lifestyle choices could contribute to many diseases including including risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, cardiovascular disease, allergies, mood disorders and inflammatory bowel disease.
If you would like to find out more about how your gut microbiome may have gotten out of balance and how to improve, please contact us for personal nutritional consultation or join one of the nutrition and cooking classes.