Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.
Bacteria in the Gut
You are more microbacterial than you think. What that means is that your body is made up of something along the lines of 30 trillion cells. But your gut, the intestines, contain upwards of 100 trillion microorganisms, namely bacteria. So, in the numerical count of cells in and of your body, you are more bacteria than human if those estimates are to be believed.
Of course, that's an exaggeration of sorts but what isn't an exaggeration is the important role these bacteria play in gastrointestinal health. Let's find out how and why in this lesson.
Type & Location
In the gut, you have somewhere between 300-500 different species of bacteria. As you can understand, we can't possibly cover them all in a relatively short lesson. So, let's focus on naming a handful of examples of the types and locations of bacteria in the gastrointestinal system. We'll get to the general role of all of these bacteria in gastrointestinal health in the next section.
Your stomach and the first part of the intestinal tract, the one that hooks up immediately to the stomach, have relatively smaller numbers of bacteria in healthy people. Why? Well the stomach acid, alongside the biliary and pancreatic secretions, kill off many of the bacteria here. The types of bacteria found in the first portions of the gastrointestinal tract are mainly aerobic, oxygen-loving, in nature and largely come from your mouth and your throat as you swallow your food and saliva. Some bacteria you might find here include Streptococci and Helicobacter pylori.
In later segments of the intestinal tract, namely the colon, anaerobic bacteria predominate. These are bacteria that aren't so keen on being around oxygen. The bacteria found in the colon include the likes of:
General Role of Bacteria
So what are all of these bacteria doing here? Well, some are there to help us, the good bacteria. Others are bad bacteria, in that they may be present transiently to cause disease. Or, they may be there all of the time but don't cause us any issues until we're sick with something else. These are known as opportunistic bacteria.
Bacteria found near the mucosal surface of the intestinal tract are probably there to help us regulate our immune system. Bacteria found near the lumen, the open space where food and feces flow through, are likely involved in digestion.
Some of the bacteria in our intestinal tract help to keep us healthy by outcompeting the transient or opportunistic pathogens. For example, they may kill off these disease-causing organisms either directly or via competition. In other words, they'll try to outcompete the bad bacteria by taking up space or food the bad bacteria need to survive. Other good bacteria found in our intestinal tract may signal our immune system to activate biochemical and cellular defenses against pathogenic, disease-causing, bacteria. So, they act as lookouts of sorts for our gut and body! Pretty cool, right?
Now that you've got the basic facts down, why don't we take a look at a couple concrete examples of how the good bacteria in our gut keep our intestinal tract healthy?
Some of the bacteria found in your intestinal tract have anti-inflammatory properties. One of these is known as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii. And you know what's interesting? This anti-inflammatory bacterium has been found in lower numbers in people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. IBD can cause a lot of pain, weight loss and diarrhea. Some research has even shown that some forms of good bacteria, like Saccharomyces boulardii and Bifidobacterium can help control flare-ups in ulcerative colitis.
Another condition that involves gut bacteria is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Although often confused with IBD, IBS involves almost no inflammation when compared to IBD. However, it can cause everything from diarrhea to constipation to bloating.
What's interesting to note is that one form of IBS, called post-infectious IBS, develops after someone ha a bout of some sort of food-borne illness. It could be that the organisms that caused the illness disrupted the balance of various gut bacteria. This imbalance could have led to various changes in the intestinal tract that predispose to diarrhea, bloating, and flatulence seen in IBS. This is also further supported by the fact that some studies have shown that probiotics (supplements with good bacteria) and antibiotics (drugs that kill bacteria) can help some people with IBS. Again, this simply points to the fact that IBS is at least partially influenced by the roles of gut bacteria.
Your gastrointestinal tract has somewhere between 300-500 different species of bacteria. Aerobic bacteria, or oxygen-loving bacteria, are more likely to be found in the first portions of this tract. Examples include Streptococci and Helicobacter pylori. Anaerobic bacteria, which are bacteria that don't like oxygen, are far more numerous in later portions of the gastrointestinal tract, namely the colon. Examples of colonic bacteria include the likes of:
Good bacteria in our digestive system help to kill or outcompete the bad bacteria. They also help alert our body to the presence of bad bacteria and thus launch an immune response to them. Bacteria, or an imbalance thereof, have been implicated in numerous problems including inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this site is for your information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice.
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