Why is Gut Health Important?
~ January 2003 No.163 ~
The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is a very neglected part of our bodies - neglected until we get a touch of diarrhoea or suffer from several days of constipation. Considering that everything we eat from soup to nuts, and everything we swallow from food to alcohol to bacteria and viruses passes along the GI tract, it is surprising that we aren•t sick more often.
The GI tract is more than a tube that runs from our mouth to our anus. The inside of this tube is coated with a thin layer of sticky, viscous mucous. Covering this mucous and imbedded in it are millions and millions of bacteria. From the time we are born to the time we die these bacteria live, grow, carryout their metabolism, and excrete beneficial and non-beneficial compounds into the gut.
When we are in good health, the population of bacteria that lives in our gut is said to be in balance - the number of "good bacteria" outnumber the number of "bad bacteria". We feel good; we are able to resist disease and infection because our immune system that is stimulated by intestinal bacteria is functioning well. Beside digestion and absorption, interaction with the body`s immune system is perhaps one of the most important roles that the bacteria that live in our intestines play. How exactly they do this is not well understood.
Probiotics are products that contain live micro-oganisms - mainly bacteria - when they are consumed. Yogurt is perhaps the best known probiotic. Kefir, acidophilus milk, fermented vegetables, and some cheeses are examples of other probiotic foods. It is believed that the good bacteria contained in probiotic foods will help establish or maintain a population of bacteria in the gut that will keep us healthy and disease free. Some probiotic products are advertised as being designed to maintain gut health.
The very large number of different bacteria that inhabit our GI tracts makes the study of the interactions between bacteria and intestine difficult. Many factors affect the population of intestinal bacteria including diet, age, sex, use of drugs, surgery, some diseases. Maintaining a proper balance of bacteria in our GI tract is key to good gut health. If our guts are healthy, we will be healthy.
|Common Human Intestinal Bacteria||Approximate Concentrations / gram intestinal contents|
|Source: Foods and Nutrition Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition|
FAO Food And Nutrition Paper 85
Probiotics in Food