The intestinal microbiota is, in general terms, the life that exists in the digestive tract, also known as the bacterial flora or intestinal flora. They are all organisms that allow full compliance with the functions of the digestive tract and the absorption of many nutrients.

In this sense, in the following article we will talk in more depth about what the intestinal microbiota is, what its functions are, what factors can affect it and how to care for it.

What is the intestinal microbiota?

The intestinal microbiota is a community of living microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, archaea) that live in the intestine. They are related through symbiosis and allow energy production, nutrient absorption and protection from potential pathogens in this area of ​​our body.

Note: In the intestinal microbiota it is essential that there is a balance between bacteria, yeasts and fungi, since the lack of it could lead to the appearance of disorders such as inflammation, sensitivity and vulnerability to infections. (1)

What are the functions of the intestinal microbiota?

The intestinal microbiota performs different functions in our body, the same being essential to maintain health and proper functioning of the body. We mention the main ones below:

1. Stimulate the development of the immune system

The proper maturation and the correct functioning and performance of the immune system is influenced by the intestinal microbiota since our intestine not only performs digestive functions, but also allows protection mechanisms in the body. (two)

You should know: The correct interactions between microorganisms, tissues and immunity mechanisms are part of the biological functions of the intestinal microbiota. 

2. Protect against pathogenic microorganisms

The intestinal microbiota also has a defensive function against pathogenic microorganisms ( E. Coli, Salmonella, Staphylococcus, Campylobacter , etc.), thanks to the balance it produces between dominant bacterial populations, thus preventing the multiplication and development of gastrointestinal diseases. (3)

3. Help digest and break down food

One of the most important elements in which the intestinal microbiota interacts for digestion is fiber , which produces a sequence of important molecules for the nutrition and health of the organism, providing a greater amount of benefits to our system. (4)

4. Promote the synthesis and absorption of essential nutrients

The intestinal microbiota contains a large group of enzymes, which influence the hydrolysis process of carbohydrates and proteins , which cannot be digested without being previously fermented. 

To highlight: It also allows obtaining short-chain fatty acids and additional calories. (5)

5. Improve behavior and mood

Studies and investigations carried out by the Intestinal Microbiota and Health Magazine show that alterations in our intestinal microbiota can produce adverse effects on our state of mind, causing a bad mood. 

Note: It happens that the bacteria of the digestive system allow the synthesis of serotonin (neurotransmitter related to the control of emotions) being at least 90% produced in the intestine. (6)

What damages the intestinal microbiota?

There are certain factors that alter and damage the intestinal microbiota , which we must recognize in order to take care of it. We mention below what these elements are: 

1. Improper diet

A diet with abundant processed, prefabricated and industrialized products will produce an alteration in our intestinal microbiota due to their nature 

You should know: The consequences of an alteration of the microbiota could lead to the development of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, and gastrointestinal and inflammatory diseases. (7)

2. Stressful situations

Stress has a fairly significant impact on our entire system, and the intestinal microbiota does not escape that. Intestinal motility, barrier function and the composition of the microbiota in general  can be affected .

However, the relationship is so close that intestinal bacteria may have the capacity to induce anxiety and depression.

3. Severe gastroenteritis

Gastroenteritis is an inflammation of the stomach, which is usually caused by an infection. It has the ability to alter the microbiota due to the complex interaction environment of microorganisms that this system has. Subsequently, the balance of the microbiota must be recovered.

4. Prolonged use of antibiotics

Medical follow-ups carried out have demonstrated the effect of antibiotics on the composition of the intestinal microbiota, greatly reducing its richness and variety, depending on the species of bacteria that are usually present. They were even driven to a slow development. (8)

How to take care of the intestinal microbiota?

For the care of the intestinal microbiota, it is important to take into account several factors that will be mentioned below, thus allowing its recognition and use: 

1. Consume probiotic foods

Probiotic foods are ideal for promoting and caring for our intestinal microbiota, due to their nature and mechanisms of action. These products are capable of producing responses similar to those of the native bacteria in our intestines, which is why they promote health, even reducing the risk of suffering from digestive disorders.

Note: Among the probiotic foods recommended to take care of the intestinal microbiota we can find yogurt , kefir and kombucha tea .

2. Increase fiber intake

In all the groups of nutrients that we consume, fiber is one of the few that act directly on our intestinal microbiota. It allows improvements in intestinal transit and stimulation of bacterial growth. (9)

To highlight: Among the main foods recommended to benefit the intestinal microbiota, mainly due to its fiber content, we can highlight nuts, cereals and some types of fruits and vegetables .

3. Limit the consumption of alcohol, sweeteners and food additives

The consumption of alcohol, sweeteners and additives present in processed products tend to influence metabolism and produce chronic intestinal inflammation as a result of excess. 

You should know: The increase in permeability due to this inflammation leads to an alteration of the microbiota , so greatly reducing the consumption of these products will largely ensure our intestinal health. (10)

4. Avoid excessive consumption of antibiotics

As we mentioned before, the consumption of antibiotics produces an alteration in the composition and species present in the intestinal microbiota, so controlling and reducing the consumption of this type of medication will reduce the disorders that we may present as a consequence.

5. Perform physical exercise

Research has shown that physical activity has the ability to increase the diversity of the intestinal microbiota, even stimulating those of a beneficial nature and preventing the development of intestinal diseases or disorders thanks to it. (eleven)

6. Manage stress

Reducing stress will allow our body to remain without alterations or imbalances that could influence our health, both at a general level and at an intestinal level, since, as we previously mentioned, the intestinal microbiota is greatly influenced by these factors.

7. Get enough rest

Research carried out at the University of Florida in the United States, verified that a poor rest is intrinsically related to a poor intestinal microbiota, which in the long term, would alter the health and stability of the organism in general. 

Note: An appropriate rest is recommended , respecting the hours of sleep and the physiological needs of our body. (12)

Key Findings

  • The intestinal microbiota is a group of microorganisms that allow the proper functioning of our digestive system and the absorption of nutrients.
  • It is a rather delicate system that must be protected from alterations, since it leads to adverse effects on our health.
  • Having an adequate diet and avoiding stressful situations prevents the imbalance of many factors in our intestinal microbiota.
  • It is recommended to carry out physical activities , avoid excessive consumption of processed products, alcohol and sugars, in addition to consuming probiotic foods to benefit our intestinal flora.

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