Microbes & Gut Health: A Vital Relationship
Microorganisms live all over the body - on our skin, mouth, nose, teeth, and throat, as well as in the gut. The bacteria known as "normal flora" area actually quite beneficial for health - they prevent the body from being colonized by harmful microbes, and they may help the body perform important actions. For example, microbes play a key role in digestion in general and gut health in particular. The intestines contain millions of bacteria that help break down food that our own bodies can't; without gut bacteria, overall gut health declines, causing issues like diarrhea, constipation, and gas. In addition, new research is linking a number of other medical issues to microbes.
In adults, there are a number of causes of poor microbial health. One of the most common issues is having an incident of food poisoning or infection, which causes diarrhea and basically "wipes out" the microbes that normally live in the gut. This issue also occurs when you take antibiotics. A healthy gut can recolonize after such an incident, but in the meantime, you are more prone to infection and the other effects of a poor microbial balance in the gut. People with chronic inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn's disease may be especially prone to these effects.
The fact that microbes affect gut health is well-established and important, but a number of research studies have suggested that the effects of microbes on overall health may go much further. Research is still preliminary in these areas; some studies were performed only in animals, and many more studies will be needed to draw more conclusive connections. However, the current findings suggest that gut health may be connected to many other aspects of health. Brain problems like autism, depression, and ADHD; obesity; heart disease; and more.
There are a number of ways to improve your gut health by promoting the growth of healthy microorganisms. One of the most important things you can do is to incorporate a yogurt or other live-culture probiotic into your diet. Yogurt contains healthy bacteria that can promote gut health - just be sure that the yogurt you choose has live cultures. There are also some cutting-edge treatments that can be used for severe microbial imbalance. For example, a stool transplant, or fecal bacteriotherapy, can be used to introduce healthy gut bacteria in people with colitis, irritable bowel disease, and C. difficile infection.