Probiotics and Gut Microbiome Diversity

What Are Microflora and Microbiome?

You probably know that bacteria live in the human gut and help with digestion. When we take antibiotics, these bacteria often die, causing digestive problems. To avoid this, doctors recommend taking probiotics and prebiotics with antibiotics.

Gut microflora, which probiotics and prebiotics support, is part of the broader human microbiome. The microbiome is a community of microorganisms living together in a habitat. The human microbiome includes microorganisms living in the human body. Depending on the location, there are different microbiomes: gut, skin, mouth, lungs, eye mucous membranes, and other mucous membranes.

There are debates about the number of microorganisms in the human body. Studies estimate between 30 to 100 trillion bacterial cells, which may equal or exceed the number of human cells. Regardless, the number of microorganisms in the human body is huge. Some estimates suggest we carry about 1.5 to 2 kilograms of microorganisms.

Why Do Humans Need Microflora?

There are many opinions about the purpose of microorganisms. Most scientists agree that microflora can be divided into three groups. One group is neutral, living in the human body without causing harm or benefit. Another group has a mutually beneficial relationship with the body, like improving digestion and nutrient absorption. The third group negatively impacts the body directly or through their byproducts.

Gut Microflora

Scientists estimate that gut microflora makes up about 95% of the human microbiome. No wonder so many studies focus on it. Human microbiota start forming during the fetal period and complete by around three years of age.

To understand why the gut needs so many microorganisms, scientists conducted many studies and found five main functions of gut microflora:

1.Aids Digestion: 

Breaks down dietary fibers and synthesizes acids and digestive enzymes.

2.Synthesizes Vitamins:

 Produces vitamin K, some B vitamins, and amino acids.

3.Protects Against Pathogens: 

Produces protective substances used in medicines called metabiotics. Unlike probiotics, metabiotics are not live bacteria, and unlike prebiotics, they do not promote bacterial growth. They are the byproducts of probiotic bacteria, offering new ways to correct microflora imbalances.

4.Neutralizes Harmful Substances:

 Detoxifies some harmful substances.

5. Regulates Body Systems:

 Affects the immune, endocrine, and nervous systems.

A healthy gut microflora is essential for overall health. Conversely, diseases and pathological processes can negatively impact gut microbiome health. Consuming harmful substances like additives, pollutants, dyes, hormones, and antibiotics is a direct way to damage microflora. These harmful substances are called xenobiotics, from the Greek word “xenos,” meaning foreign.

Consuming xenobiotics and pathogenic microorganisms can lead to dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is the pathological change in healthy gut microbiota due to external factors. Whether dysbiosis is a standalone disease or a symptom of another disease is for medical experts to decide. However, both supporters and opponents agree that an imbalance in gut microbiota is an abnormal, pathological condition.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Many scientific studies show that eating healthy, microbiota-friendly food and avoiding xenobiotics positively impacts gut microflora. This also applies to consuming prebiotics and probiotics.

Prebiotics are substances that the digestive system cannot break down, which promote the growth and development of gut microflora.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that reach the gut intact and can thrive there.

The combination of probiotics and prebiotics is called synbiotics.

Consuming prebiotics and probiotics benefits the gut microbiome, boosts the immune system, helps prevent infections (especially in older adults who produce fewer bifidobacteria), and reduces the risk and duration of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. Eating foods rich in lactobacilli and bifidobacteria can improve gut microflora and prevent dysbiosis in healthy people.

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