Humans carry anywhere between two to six pounds of thriving, swimming, living bacteria inside their bodies at any given time. Most of this good and bad bacteria make their home in the intestines. Gut Flora is the technical name for the trillions of bacteria that live here: gut meaning intestines, and flora meaning microorganisms. For the most part, intestinal bacteria lives a friendly co-existence with the rest of the body. The remaining non-bacterial cells in a human number at about one hundred trillion, while the gut flora comes to about ten times that much causing some to call it the “forgotten organ” for the vast amount of functions it performs. These functions include:
- Fermenting energy
- Training the immune system
- Preventing harmful bacteria growth
- Regulating the gut
- Producing vitamins (including biotin and vitamin K)
This process is unique inasmuch that the intestinal bacteria actually extracts unused energy from organic compounds. This is done by means of oxidation, which enables it to keep the intestines flourishing, regulated and healthy.
Training the Immune System
By working with ingested bacteria at the infancy stage, the body essentially offers the intestinal bacteria an opportunity to not only fight off, but catalog such ingested bacteria for further battles. By fighting off an invader, the gut flora can store that invader’s genetic code and attack it that much more efficiently the next time it finds its way into the system. This process is a practice stage for the immature immune system, thus empowering it throughout life.
Preventing Harmful Bacteria Growth
By taking primary residence in the gut, friendly bacteria does not give harmful bacteria a chance to grow. This is known as the “barrier effect”. By lining the surrounding, mucous membrane within the intestines, these bacteria push out interlopers not only by taking up space but by eating all the available nutrition. The most popular, friendly gut bacteria is lactobacillus acidophilus which is often found in yogurt and is also available in capsules. Replenishing your body with this friendly bacteria, also known as probiotics, is always a good idea as things like pennicillin, disease and an unhealthy diet can kill off the good bacteria and allow the bad bacteria to flourish.
Regulating the Gut
Stress, diet, medication and disease can wreak havoc on the gastrointestinal tract. Fortunately, there is an army of bacteria prepared to deal with these outside forces and able to keep the intestines regulated and under control. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) are the most prevalent disorders due to the aforementioned triggers and can take years to get under control and sometimes, if the person is lucky, cure. When the gut is challenged in this way, the whole bodily system can suffer. Taking probiotics, eating fiber, live vegetables and produce, and cutting back on refined foods and sugars all contribute to a healthy gut.
Gut flora is constantly producing vitamins to make sure the body has a reserve if diet does not adequately replenish. Vitamin K is a common vitamin production in the gut. This vitamin is essential for blood coagulation. It also produces biotin, an important B vitamin (B7) that aids in cell growth, fatty acid production and the metabolism of amino acids.