Bacteria – vital for your health and well-being
There are more bacteria on this planet than grains of sand – billions more! Some bacteria can even survive under extreme conditions such as living in boiling water. Despite their bad reputation, most bacteria are not harmful creatures that will make us sick unless we get rid of them. These small microbes are in fact the most powerful life form on earth.
Especially your gut is inhabited by a complex microbial army – and that is actually good news! They help us both digest food and fight invasive bad bacteria. A growing body of research suggests that we would have a hard time without them as they influence our appetite, digestion, metabolism, immune system and, to a degree, our physical and mental well-being.
More than a gut feeling
The human gut is home to trillions of bacteria that live in our digestive tract, which is commonly referred to as the gut microbiota. Fascinatingly, not two gut microbiotas look the same – we are all unique.
You may already have heard scientists talk about how the gut is actually our second brain, which is something that has grown to be widely accepted in scientific communities in recent years. The microbiota-gut-brain axis is indeed complex and is evolving throughout life to make it even more complicated to understand. But let’s take a closer look at what we know now.
How the gut microbiota affects our immune system
From as early as birth, bacteria are passed from the mother to the infant, and the newborn’s gut microbiome starts to take shape and may play a role in the infant’s health later in life. Until a child is around two-and-a-half years old, the diversity and stability of the gut microbes increase dramatically.
The bacteria and viruses that a baby inherits during vaginal birth and breastfeeding, although the diet after weaning and other environmental factors play a role, directly influence the development of the baby’s immune system. Research in this field even suggests that people who are obese, or suffer from inflammatory diseases and allergies, may have altered microbiomes, but the exact relationship is still to be fully understood.
How can I grow the number of good bacteria and restore my gut flora?
There is evidence that establishing a healthy gut microbiota at the very start of life is key to a healthy life. But what can you do to restore or improve your gut flora as a young person or adult? ‘You are what you eat’ has been a popular saying for generations and that may very well be the truth. Looking across a vast number of clinical studies and research the solution could be probiotics as dietary supplements, a high intake of fibers and fermented food such as kefir or yogurt, and trying to minimize the use of antibiotics.