The impact of gut health on overall well-being

The intestines do more than just digest food. The bacteria living there play a crucial role in protecting the body from infections. The state of the intestines largely determines a person’s immunity, as 70% of immune cells reside there. MedAboutMe will discuss the factors influencing the intestinal microflora, how to maintain its balance, and strengthen the body’s defenses.

Intestinal bacteria

The intestinal microflora refers to various microorganisms living in the human gastrointestinal tract. Most of them are bacteria in the colon, mainly represented by bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. These microorganisms, called probiotics, are essential for human health and perform many functions necessary for normal life. 

The main functions include:

  • digesting food;
  • synthesizing certain vitamins (K, B12, PP, etc.);
  • preventing the growth of pathogenic and conditionally pathogenic microorganisms;
  • stimulating immunity.

The intestines also contain pathogenic or conditionally pathogenic microorganisms, normally suppressed by the friendly bacteria mentioned above. However, many factors related to a person’s daily life, habits, environment, diseases, and medications can negatively affect the intestinal microflora, disrupting its balance. In this case, conditions arise for the development of pathogenic microorganisms, disrupting the normal functioning of the intestines and reducing immunity—the body’s ability to resist infections.

The following factors adversely affect the intestinal microflora:

  • improper nutrition;
  • alcohol intoxication;
  • diseases of the digestive organs: liver, stomach, pancreas;
  • prolonged use of antibiotics;
  • stress.

Disruption of the intestinal microflora is one of the most common causes of improper bowel function and, as a result, deterioration of a person’s general condition. In addition, 70% of bacteria beneficial for immunity live in the intestines, so disruption of the intestinal microflora naturally leads to a decrease in immunity, resulting in frequent colds and other infectious diseases.

Nutrition as a factor in strengthening immunity

Gastroenterologists consider proper nutrition the main condition for maintaining the balance of the intestinal microflora. It should be balanced, varied, using mainly natural products (for example, meat, not sausage; fruits, not candy). When cooking, preference should be given to boiling, stewing, and baking. Fats, ready-made store-bought meals, sweet drinks, and pastries should be limited.

The most important component of nutrition that helps maintain a healthy intestinal microflora is low-fat fermented dairy products: kefir, yogurt (without additives), fermented baked milk, and sour milk. They contain beneficial bacteria necessary for the body and create a favorable environment in the intestines to suppress pathogenic microorganisms, thus helping probiotics successfully perform their immune defense functions.

Fiber is another component of proper nutrition necessary for the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract. It consists of plant fibers and performs many irreplaceable functions for maintaining the health of the intestines and the entire body, including:

  • promoting normal bowel movements;
  • cleansing it of toxins and other harmful substances;
  • participating in metabolic processes, in particular, regulating sugar and cholesterol levels;
  • supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria—fiber serves as food for them.

The greatest amount of fiber is found in legumes, bran, cereals (oats, buckwheat, barley), nuts and seeds, cabbage, root vegetables, pumpkin, eggplant, apples, peaches, apricots, oranges, berries, and dried fruits.

The impact of stress on intestinal microflora and immunity

Studies examining the impact of stressors on human health have shown that emotional stress has the greatest negative impact on the state of the intestinal microflora. Emotional and mental stress, to a greater extent than physical stress, causes an imbalance in the bacterial flora, with a decrease in bifidobacteria and an increase in the number of opportunistic and pathogenic microorganisms. Symptoms of this include changes in the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract: diarrhea, constipation, pain, flatulence, nausea, and belching. Such phenomena are often observed during or on the eve of serious life challenges. Prolonged exposure to a stressful situation also affects the state of immunity—a person begins to get sick more often, recovers with difficulty, and diseases can become chronic.

Stress also provokes changes in nutrition. The desire to improve one’s emotional state with the help of coffee, alcohol, and sweets, which create the illusion of replenishing energy losses, exacerbates the imbalance of the intestinal microflora. To protect the digestive system and immunity, it is necessary to learn to avoid stress or resist it. Depending on the level of impact of stressors on a particular person’s body, prevention methods can vary widely: from engaging in hobbies and socializing with friends to seeking the help of a psychologist and practicing meditation. An effective way to relieve emotional tension is to engage in sports or any other type of physical activity.

Antibiotics and dysbacteriosis

Antibiotics, discovered in the 20th century, became a miraculous remedy that saved many lives due to their ability to successfully fight dangerous pathogenic microorganisms previously untreatable. However, over time, it became clear that the use of antibiotics can bring not only benefits but also harm, especially if used incorrectly.

Objective reasons exist for why these drugs in some cases do not have the expected therapeutic effect. Primarily, this relates to the mutation of pathogenic organisms that have developed ways to protect themselves from antibiotics, making the latter less successful in their task. In an individual, such resistance of pathogenic bacteria can develop due to improper administration of the prescribed drug: interrupted treatment or frequent and uncontrolled use of an antibiotic.

The negative impact of antibiotics on the body also stems from the fact that by suppressing the growth of pathogenic microbes, they also inhibit the development of beneficial bacteria, leading to an increase in the number of pathogenic microorganisms resistant to this type of antibiotic. This imbalance of various types of intestinal flora is called dysbacteriosis and manifests itself in the form of disorders in the functioning of the digestive system.

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