Billions of little helpers

Although you can’t see them, we have trillions of bacteria called the microflora living on our skin, in our mouth and nose and most notably in our intestines. Known as the microflora, this bacteria weighs around 1.5 kilos (the same weight as our liver) and is estimated to account for around 2% of total body mass.

Humans are colonized by many types of microorganisms - including bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses.

The traditional estimate is that the average human body is inhabited by ten times as many non-human cells as human cells, but more recent estimates have lowered that ratio to 3:1 or even to approximately the same number. The gut contains the largest numbers of bacteria and the greatest number of species compared to other areas of the body. 

The bacteria take residence in our bodies from the day we are born and remain with us throughout our lives, with the gut flora being established in the first 2-3 years of life.

 

The human gastrointestinal tract has developed with a very complex but stable population of bacteria that play an important role in nutrition, metabolism, regulation of immune function and protection.

The beneficial bacteria are made up of hundreds of different species, the main two of which are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.  These bacteria are found in the normal microflora of the intestine and research shows that they play an important role in improving digestion and intestinal health as well as helping to regulate the immune system. 

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How is the microflora beneficial?

The trillions of bacteria that make up the gut microbiota have a multitude of benefits…in fact we couldn’t survive without them.

  • They act like millions of workers helping us to digest food, especially certain types of fibre, and this gives us more energy.
  • They are essential in helping us to absorb the beneficial antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables.
  • They also help to build our natural defences as soon as we are born and then help to maintain our immune system throughout our lives. One way that they do this is by forming a microscopic ‘protective carpet’ on our intestinal surface and then acting like thousands of tiny ‘surveillance sentries’, helping to stop pathogens entering the body through the digestive tract.
  • The gut microbiota help with the production of some vitamins, specifically vitamin B12, Biotin and vitamin K.

A balanced microflora

The gut microbiota contains both helpful (good) and hostile (bad) bacteria and the ideal balance for our bodies is around 85 percent beneficial and 15 percent unfavourable bacteria.

Many factors, such as diet, the environment, food poisoning, gut infections, illness, antibiotics, stress, lack of sleep and aging can impact on the balance of the gut bacteria and allow the less desirable types of bacteria to increase and put the microflora out of balance.

This imbalance is known as 'dysbiosis' and can have an impact on our health in many ways. Obvious digestive issues related to dysbiosis include bloating, indigestion and food intolerances, and many other conditions are increasingly being linked to digestive health and balanced gut bacteria.

As our environment and food have become more hygienic and ‘bug-free’, particularly over the past 50 years, this has led to an under-exposure to both friendly and not-so-friendly bacteria. Alongside this, our lives have generally become more hectic and stressful, which has also put pressure on the normal development and sustenance of the microflora throughout our lives.

Along with periods of intestinal discomfort and bloating, an imbalanced microflora can contribute to low energy, making us feel sluggish and tired. In addition, as the microflora supports the maintenance and surveillance of our immune system, an imbalance in the bacteria can affect this protection.

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Why do we need friendly bacteria?

The consumption of friendly bacteria as part of the diet to provide health benefits is not a new concept, as historically mankind has consumed large amounts of bacteria in the form of fermented and cultured foods, which aided food preservation prior to refrigeration. 

In the past 50 years however, consumption of friendly bacteria to help restore and then maintain the beneficial microflora balance has been widely researched.  As a result of this research, these friendly bacteria are now available in convenient supplement form developed specifically to support health as an addition to a wholesome and nourishing diet, which can help to further encourage the growth of the friendly bacteria.  

The friendly bacteria have been termed ‘probiotics’ and they comprise the friendliest types of bacteria found in the normal microflora of the intestine.  They are live microbial food ingredients that have been shown to have a beneficial effect on health when taken in the right amounts. 

The highest quality supplements will have the specific strains of friendly bacteria clearly listed and, in the best cases, will be supported by research and proof of safety.

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