Why a healthy Microbiome is important to your family.
Most of us know about microbes and have the tendency to avoid them, which is a healthy approach that saved thousands of lives since hygiene and sanitation made their way into society. Nowadays, preventing infections has become so important that some people even develop a pathological fear of being contaminated with germs. But we can’t really generalize by saying that all microbes are bad guys, some of them might be actually beneficial for our health.
The majority of microbes in our bodies live in our skin and gastrointestinal system. The small intestine and colon are both sources of thousands of bacteria that replicate, grow and colonize the gastrointestinal lining. This happens in healthy individuals with no disease, and what’s more, adverse effects would ensue if these bacteria were absent. This normal ecosystem inside of us is referred to as the “gut microbiome.”
The importance of good microbes for your family
The only moment in our lives when there are no microbes in our gastrointestinal system is while living in mama’s womb and closely after being born. That’s one of the reasons why people say newborns have an immature gut. They actually need to colonize their gut with good microbes, which starts happening when they pass through the birth canal and are then breastfed. Breast milk is the first source of probiotics we taste, and it helps to prevent severe infections from an early stage. This is the reason why babies who are delivered through a C-section and receive no breastfeeding have an increased incidence of gastrointestinal problems and may develop systemic conditions later in life, as in the case of obesity.
Babies and young children also need a healthy gut microbiome for the same reason. They are especially susceptible to gastrointestinal disease, and when they don’t have good microbes, the ones that cause problems (pathogenic bacteria) have an open field to infect the mucosal linings. Thus, when good bacteria colonize our gut, a healthy microbiome is occupying the space and not letting any pathogenic bacteria infect it. The bacteria compete with each other and they become a protective field to our colon, but that’s just the start.
Immunity is an integral part of our health, and when our defenses are high, we don’t get sick as often. It turns out that a big part of immune system tissue is located in our gut, it is called GALT, which stands for “gut-associated lymphoid tissue.” A healthy microbiome is in close relation with GALT tissue and even modulates the immune response in healthy individuals. Having good microbes colonizing our gut creates signals capable of improving our defenses towards malicious germs, parasites, and viruses.
In the elderly, the gut microbiota suffers some changes. In this stage of life, there are many physiological changes, the immune system functions differently, and there are lifestyle and nutritional changes as well. Some bacterial strains are increased, and others tend to be reduced. However, the significant influence of healthy microbiota in the elderly is related to systemic inflammation, which is a problem commonly seen in fragile older adults. There are many good microbes that modulate immunity and create anti-inflammatory products as a part of their own metabolism. Studies show that if we can modulate this microbiota with probiotics, they will improve their health and well-being.
The gut microbiota is also a contributor to human nutrition. Vitamins are molecules that we need from the outside because they can’t be created inside our body. However, healthy microbiota is capable of producing folate, vitamin B12, and even vitamin K. Additionally, good microbes help with nutrient absorption because whatever is missed by our enzymes is taken by them. They can convert undigested carbohydrates into other molecules –acetate, propionate, and butyrate- that are easily absorbed or taken up by the colonic epithelium.
By changing our gut microbiota, we can prevent diarrhea and gastrointestinal disease, and much more. There are studies about implications for patients with allergies, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, cystic fibrosis and even psychiatric problems like depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and autism. With all of these benefits, there’s no wonder why there’s large volumes of ongoing investigation about human gut microbiota and how it can be modulated to improve these and many other health conditions. But what about our pets? Is there anything to say about microbiota in pets?
Healthy microbiota in animals
Veterinary medicine is entirely different sometimes when compared to humans. Not all principles apply the same. But in the case of gut microbiota, almost all of the facts we already mentioned in humans are also true in the case of pets and other animals. They also have good microbes colonizing their gut, and they are equally essential to keep them healthy.
Of course, there are differences between us and our pets. Some of the microbes that colonize our gut also do the same on their organism, but not all. Therefore, it is always a good idea to ask your vet before giving your pet a probiotic product designed for humans.
Who would say that microbes could undergo so many changes in our perception? At first, they were entirely unknown, and they were not a part of ancient medical books. When they were discovered as the source of disease, they became our enemies. They are still feared by many and studied by others who have realized some of them have potentially useful applications in our lives. As the field of gut microbiota grows, our understanding of how we can modulate them will have more and more medical applications. Maybe in some ironic future, microbes will become an integral part of your drug prescription.
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