Humans, as well as non-human species, are hosts to several microorganisms that inhabit the gastrointestinal tract. Among these microorganisms, few of them are such whose relationship with the host is not only commensal (a harmless coexistence) but also mutual. While it might seem otherwise, some organisms even benefit the host in many ways. Some microorganisms are known to ferment dietary fiber; some bacterias synthesize Vitamin K and Vitamin A, whereas some metabolize xenobiotics, sterols, and bile acids. These biochemical syntheses are vital processes that help in the body’s metabolic activities. Their existence depends upon the health as well as the diet of the host. If taken care of, they can prove to provide incredible health benefits. However, unfortunately, these microorganisms have been forgotten over time due to a lack of education or awareness. One among such is the “Gut Flora.”
What is Gut Flora?
Gut flora, also known as Human Gastrointestinal Microbiota, are the microorganisms that reside in the gastrointestinal tracts of human beings. The gastrointestinal metagenome in humans is the accumulation of each genome of gut microbiota. The gut flora in humans is generated within a year or two of the birth of the baby. The gut flora benefits the host by fermenting dietary fiber into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyric and acetic acid. These acids have the same importance as hormones, and similarly, gut flora itself resembles an endocrine organ. It has a metabolic activity, just like a virtual organ. At both host and microbial levels, the natural selection of gut flora is reflected by its composition and structure.
Gut flora health and effects
The gut flora responds to any alteration in diet, lifestyle as well as age. It is also influenced by environmental factors affecting the genotype of the host. The variation in the composition of gut microflora and the prevalence of infection takes place between infants, those who are formula-fed, and those who are breastfed. Many studies have identified that different genera of bacteria in the gut microbiome are associated with nutrient intake. It has been revealed that the concentration of each enterotype: Bacteroides, Ruminococcus, and Prevotella, is associated with diet. The gut flora composition reflects the change in diet as well as overall health change.
Studies have shown that animals devoid of germs are more vulnerable to infections. Their digestive enzyme activity, vascularity, and muscle wall thickness are reduced, whereas the enterochromaffin area of the cell is increased. Individuals who are genetically susceptible can experience the problem that few of the components of the microflora might become a liability. Further, these liabilities bestow the pathogenesis of numerous gut disorders, such as inflammatory bowel diseases. Therefore cultivating gut health can be very beneficial for the overall health of an individual. This can be realized by maintaining a proper gut health diet.
Probiotics as regulators of gut flora health
According to Fuller’s definition, probiotics are: ‘A live microbial feed supplement which beneficially affects the host animal by improving its intestinal microbial balance.’ However, a revised definition by the European scientists suggests the definition as ‘a live microbial feed supplement that is beneficial to health.’
New scientific studies suggest that gut flora health can be maintained positively by the ingestion of probiotics. This balance of the gut microflora can then enhance the overall well-being of the host. Researches conducted on specific disorders and illnesses have identified the involvement of probiotics for gut flora to be beneficial. Theoretically, increasing the probiotic levels may produce a barrier against pathogens. The health of individuals with acute or chronic gut disorders has proven to be improved by the regulation of the balance of gut flora through probiotics.
Elderly individuals and those who are vulnerable to nosocomial infections due to alteration in gut microflora, experience a decrease in the number of valuable microbial species. Therefore, their survival in the competitive ecosystem in the gut must be taken care of. To fulfill this requirement, along with probiotics, the usage of prebiotics proves to be a beneficial approach. Prebiotics are dietary carbohydrates that have been metabolized selectively by probiotics. Their combined use is called synbiotic. The effects of synbiotics are enhanced with the maintenance of proper diet by consuming required gut health food. There is a direct effect of change in diet on the overall functionality of the gut.