During the last decade the media has constantly given us messages about the importance of maintaining our immune system by nourishing our intestines with dairy products.

Repetitive marketing has insisted that we have to eat and drink various yogurts of different brands every day. This kind of advertising seems to me useful for basic public education on the care of our intestinal ecology, even if the advertisers’ promises, inevitably made for commercial reasons, may be exaggerated.

Many people are not clear about the meaning of the term “intestinal micro-flora” — and understand words such as: “probiotics” and “prebiotics” even less. Nevertheless, they are highly influenced by what they see on television and think: “If I drink this brand of yogurt every day, I will boost my immunological defenses, control my cholesterol, and possibly solve the problem of my constipation.”

The intention is good, and it is good for a person who is healthy to eat these products daily. However, if tummy upsets and digestive problems persist these over-the-counter measures are insufficient and do not solve the problem.

Here we can see a common error. Functional foods (foods that have added active ingredients to provide more nutrients), such as yogurts and other fermented dairy (or vegetable) products, do form part of a balanced and healthy nutritional diet. Consumed regularly, they help keep us healthy and prevent problems with intestinal ecology but they do not provide a cure in themselves and they are not a substitute for medical care as the first measure in treating a problem.

We use the term “intestinal micro-flora” or “intestinal microbiota” (as it is now more commonly referred to in medical circles) to signify our own personal zoology: a universe of diverse bacteria, viruses, fungi, yeasts, and parasites that live in our intestines. It is quite normal for the intestinal tract to be filled with bacteria but some less friendly strains of bacteria can invade our intestines and take up residence there.

The intestinal microbiota of an adult includes an incredible 1,500 strains of bacteria and other living species!

Together this potent biomass generates an intense metabolic activity in the colon and strongly influences the physiology of the host. In fact, they are so numerous that they make up 40–50 percent of the weight of our faeces.

There are more bacteria living in our body, the major of them in the gut, than the total number of cells the human body has! Perhaps we could be considered more bacteria that a human being?

This incredible biomass, that uses us as a universe for living, creates a great impact on our health, mood and genes. Modern science already has proof that the metabolic activity of some of our bugs is vital and essential for correct growth in childhood, for brain development, for prevention of many illnesses, for weight and cancer control, etc.

A balanced intestinal microbiota (a healthy internal ecology) is a mass of predominantly “good” bacteria that are highly aware of their environment. These bacteria maintain friendly and very diplomatic relations with our intestinal mucosa. It is a highly holistic and intelligent ecosystem, with many interrelationships, not only with other bacteria but also with the rest of the body. Among the many benefits of a healthy intestinal microbiota, the most important is to nourish the enterocytes (the cells of the intestine) and contribute to a local immunological response for the defense of the body.

 

An unbalanced intestinal microbiota (we call it the state of dysbiosis) occurs with the growth of “bad” bacteria that attack each other and the cells of the colon, producing great irritation and causing local inflammation. These strains generate by-products from their disorganized lives that are very toxic and damaging to the host: they provoke putrefaction in protein residues and mutations in the cells of the colon.

Dysbiosis can also be caused by fungal strains and yeasts; those “beasts” that love sweets, and carbohydrates in general, which they “devour.” They immediately ferment sugars and thereby generate gas – in industrial quantities!

In extreme disequilibrium, the intestinal microbiota can transform itself into an aggressive, invading biomass that causes the development of digestive illnesses, the growth and development of polyps, cancer of the colon, and toxicity in the body in general.

I want to emphasize again: it is normal to have bacteria inside the gut. It may not seem agreeable or sound refined, but it is essential. We are designed in such a way that the large intestine has the correct conditions to ensure prolific colonization of bacteria.

If the colon was totally sterile, the body would easily develop serious allergies, have reduced immune defenses, and food intolerances would soon appear.

So, if we cannot live without this diverse and enormous quantity of little creatures, it is better to work with them and understand this world in our gut. Over the course of our lives, bacteria regularly enter through the mouth and colonize our intestines. This is just a fact of life but it is in our interests to control the quality of these “tenants” in our gut and to protect ourselves from any harm they may cause.

In the absence of serious systemic illness and antibiotic treatment, gut microbiota is normally stable. However, antibiotics and other antibacterial agents, as well as chemotherapy and radiotherapy and other prolonged medication, is likely to provoke significant disturbances in our gut. These resistant, aggressive, “bad” bacteria can reach a critical population threshold; at which point they become virulent, causing diarrhoea or other upsets.

After some medical treatments, stress, or other major health disturbance, the intestines can enter into a period of slow but stable recovery of their balance; or, depending on the physiological and pathological state of the person, there may be a chronic altering and unbalancing of the intestinal microbiota, marking the beginning of pathological and toxic processes in the intestinal tract.

Therefore, take probiotics and prebiotics during chemical/pharmacological treatment and for a period of two months afterwards, in addition to reinforcing your diet with functional foods.

The term “probiotic” refers to products that contain live micro-organisms, which survive the passage through the gastrointestinal tract and have a beneficial effect on the host. Probiotic foods exert a positive influence on health far beyond the energy and nutrients they contain. In particular, scientists cite various beneficial effects found in probiotic supplements, which contain strong concentrated living strains of “good” bacteria.

Probiotics administered to children and adults cause positive changes to gut ecology and its metabolic activity. Even though the changes they produce are small, when they are applied to pathological situations, they are often sufficient to beneficially alter the course of an illness.

Probiotics are associated with an increase in the quantity of bifidobacteria and lactobacillus bacteria in the faeces, balancing faecal pH, and a reduction in the bacterial enzyme activities that are associated with the development of cancer of the colon and inflammation.

Prebiotics are ingredients in food that are not digestible (principally fructo-oligosaccarides) that selectively promote the growth and activity of a limited number of “good” species of bacteria. They are indigestible carbohydrates consisting of dietary fibre that, after their transit through the small intestine, arrive in the colon practically without any modification

Prebiotics represent a preferred food for our good bacteria, an easy resource and a rich source of fuel. They are an essential nutrient to keep our “friends” alive and essential for good digestive health.

Food is also the key. It is obvious that you cannot maintain balanced gut ecology if you have a harmful lifestyle, but neither can you do so if you eat too much protein and refined fast carbohydrates in processed food.

You should nourish the good bacteria of your gut microbiota with prebiotics.

If not, when your friendly bacteria starve, they die!

Published at blog.findhornpress.com