The Health Importance of Gut Bacteria
Most people regard bacteria as something to avoid. In reality, however, our bodies rely on trillions of beneficial bacteria to function normally. From digestion to disease prevention, intestinal flora plays key roles which promote and sustain our well-being. In fact, numerous recent studies have shown that gut bacteria health may be critical to preventing early death.
What Are Gut Bacteria?
Intestinal flora is comprised of approximately 300 to 500 different kinds of bacteria, which contain nearly 2 million different genes. Along with certain types of fungi and even viruses, gut bacteria forms what's known as microbiota or the unique ecological community of symbiotic, commensal and pathogenic microorganisms that share your body.
Much like fingerprints, microbiota is unique to each person and largely determined by your mother’s microbiota, your environment and your diet and lifestyle.
Why it Matters
While bacteria live in different parts of your body, the ones living in your gut appear to have the biggest impact on your well-being. Most reside in your colon and intestines, where they generate various chemicals that impact everything from mood to metabolism to immune function.
Modern research indicates that healthy people have much different gut bacteria compared to individuals with certain diseases and other health problems. In short, unhealthy people appear to have either too much or too little of specific bacteria that either protect against ailments or increase the risk of disease.
Research into the gut has revealed a startling relationship between bacteria and disease. Some studies have linked specific types of gut bacteria to the development of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, colon cancer and arthritis. Some research even suggests that gut bacteria could promote anxiety, depression and autism by impacting the central nervous system.
How Can it Affect So Much?
It's not clear why intestinal flora plays such a key role in promoting god health; however, research indicates that certain bacteria may release chemicals that could promote widespread inflammation throughout the body.
Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of disease by eating foods that promote the development of healthy gut bacteria. These include fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. You should also avoid foods that promote the growth of potentially harmful gut bacteria, including “western” diets that are high in fat and sugar. Exercise also appears to play a key role in helping to cultivate more diverse, beneficial microbiota.