ACS Distance Education UK
Some digestion in the human body occurs through the activity of micro organisms living inside the body, in the digestive system.
These micro organisms are often called the body’s "microflora", or gut flora.Sometimes these beneficial bacteria populations are damaged or may disappear. Medical treatments (eg. antibiotics) can kill these important micro organisms and interfere with digestive processes.
Eating the correct types of food can help avoid problems such as this. A diet with plenty of vegetables and fruits will be particularly important to maintaining proper populations of gut flora.Fermented foods are a good source of beneficial bacteria too; such as sauerkraut, yoghurt and kambucha.
Some people take "probiotic" capsules to help with maintaining the right types of bacteria in their bodies. Extracts of these micro-organisms can be purchased from health food shops and ingested to replenish flora if needed.
While taking antibiotics, an extract of yeast made up of Saccharomyces boulardii can be taken to avoid the growth of Candida and other harmful yeast in the body, while the normal intestinal flora is recovering.
As these micro-organisms are beneficial to the body, they are known as symbiotes (ie. having a symbiotic or mutually beneficial existance with the human body). There are many hundreds, if not thousands, of different symbiotic micro-organisms in the human body. Examples in the digestive tract are: E.coli (present in the intestine, but if ingested causes food poisoning) and lactobasilis achidophilis (found in the small intestine). Some digestive functions rely on these organisms, for example: different organisms can synthesise vitamins from our waste products, or enzymes (such as lactase). Some others metabolise heavy metals.
Studies have found that different kinds of bacteria that live inside our digestive tracts also play an important role on obesity and weight loss. There are three main enterotypes of intestinal flora in humans (Prevotella, Bacteroides and Ruminococcus) and the ratio of each one in our ‘gut biota’ will vary from individual to individual depending on the type of diet they consume. For example, Bacteroides will dominate on individuals who consume large amounts of protein and animal fat in their diet, while Prevotella will most likely dominate among individuals whose food source is mainly based on carbohydrates). In today’s world, there are many factors that can cause a decrease in our gut flora (e.g. stress, diseases, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs, colitis, age, acid-alkaline changes in the bowel, etc.) but alterations in our dietary patterns and lifestyle may be changed and adapted for each individual to allow weight loss and overall improvement of health.