Life is a constant struggle for resources. In the microcosm, different types of bacteria compete for the same sources of energy that are necessary for their life. Sometimes these nutrients are available in sufficient quantities, and sometimes they have to be sought out.
And sometimes they are abundant and easily accessible, but there are too many competitors.
This is exactly the environment in our guts – a lot of food digested into simple components, but also easy access, which means we have to fight for the resource.
Bacteroides, bifidus and lactobacilli, as well as some other species, have won this fight by offering some invaluable services to the producing organism (i.e. us). Among them is the decomposition of dietary fiber (fiber) to form short-chain fatty acids, which are essential for the healthy function of intestinal wall cells. A deficiency of these bacterial by-products is associated with the development of colon cancer and autoimmune intestinal diseases.
The intestinal flora is involved in the formation of vital vitamins B and K, the transformation of bile acids, steroids, and some toxins. The colon’s inhabitants help in the formation of immunity and local defense mechanisms, directly displace pathogenic microbes and even affect body weight.
Back in the early twentieth century, Ilya Mechnikov proved the involvement of intestinal microorganisms in the prevention of early aging.
What can we offer to help our little allies? Proper food supply and safety. Most of the bacteria living in the large intestine are lactic acid bacteria, i.e. they produce lactic acid by processing simple sugars (e.g. glucose). Therefore, by consuming a sufficient amount of carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, bread, potatoes), we provide a substrate for their growth and nutrition. For species that ferment dietary fiber, we must offer sufficient plant foods in the diet (whole grains, bran, vegetables, fruits). Foods used by our gut bacteria are called prebiotics.
Living inside our bodies, the intestinal flora is also exposed to many negative influences that we can compensate for (diet) or minimize (avoid).
For example, similar types of bacteria that are found alive in natural yogurt, plain yogurt, and kefir are called probiotics. Their regular consumption in optimal amounts allows us to compensate for the daily loss of intestinal microbes with feces, and to normalize their number in cases of colonization and growth of other, unhealthy bacteria and fungi.
In the context of the safe functioning of our intestinal flora, it is critically important to get antibiotics into the body. Of course, we have no other way to treat a bacterial infection, but we must also think about how to restore the intestinal flora during and after antibiotic therapy. That is why it is necessary to supplement the intake of probiotics, dietary fiber, and fermented dairy products.
Therefore, let’s give our little residents enough of the food they need, protect them from thoughtless use of antibiotics, restore their balance when necessary, and live healthier for longer!