What is the gut microbiota and how does it influence health?
A balanced diet and learning to manage stress and emotions are key to good digestive health.
The intestinal microbiota is made up of a set of around 100 billion living microorganisms, mainly bacteria, which live in the intestine in a symbiotic relationship with the human being and which is currently considered by experts to be a “new organ”. As Ámina Alani, head of the Digestive Health Unit at SHA Wellness Clinic, explains, “each person has a different microbiota and is very sensitive to changes, both physical and emotional. In fact, the two main causes of its alteration are an unbalanced diet and stress, as the brain and the intestine are closely connected”.
The gut microbiota is key to good mental, physical and emotional health. Among its many functions, the doctor highlights “metabolic and digestive functions, as the different bacteria present in the human gut microbiota are able to digest cellulose, complex starches, proteins and fatty acids, produce enzymes that aid digestion, improve intestinal transit, synthesise essential amino acids and vitamins, such as K, B12 or B8 (biotin) and collaborate in the absorption of certain ions, such as magnesium and iron. They also play a fundamental role in the so-called “barrier effect” because they occupy a space that prevents the implantation of bacteria foreign to the intestinal ecosystem and secrete antimicrobial substances that inhibit the development of other potentially pathogenic bacteria. They also have a trophic action because the short-chain fatty acids produced by these bacteria strengthen the enterocytes, which are the intestinal cells, and reinforce the intestinal barrier, preventing excessive permeability of the epithelium. Finally, it should be noted that the intestinal immune system is the most extensive part of the immune system, so a balanced microbiota is a decisive factor in its development and maturation”.
Maintaining a balance and a high level of biodiversity in the microbiota is essential for it to develop all its functions correctly. Ámina gives us the keys to achieving this: “the microbiota feeds on the nutrients present in our diet, so it must be healthy, balanced and include prebiotic and probiotic foods. In addition, learning to manage stress and our emotions, regular physical exercise and good sleep hygiene are essential for our digestive health. And it is important to promote breastfeeding in order to have a healthy microbiota from early childhood.