Some say it is our “second brain”, some say it is the largest “digestive organ” in the human body, and some say it affects our “immunity” – this is the flora resident in our intestines. Since the intestinal flora is so important, should we do the expensive intestinal microbial testing on the market? Should I take a dazzling array of probiotic products, and how do I choose? Don’t worry, here we will take you to understand the little guys in the intestines and understand their secrets in seconds…
The intestinal flora in the body can weigh up to four pounds
Hippocrates, the founder of Western medicine, said that “the source of all diseases originates from the intestines” is not groundless. It’s just that this “intestine” is not just limited to the anatomical concept of the intestine, but also includes a network composed of intestinal microecology, intestinal mucosal barrier, intestinal innate immunity, and enteric neuroendocrine cells.
90% of the microorganisms in the human body live in the intestines, and these microorganisms are intestinal flora. The intestinal flora in a normal human body can weigh up to 2kg, which is 10 times the number of cells in the entire human body. The number is as high as 100 trillion, containing at least 1,000 different species.
These microbiota live in the human intestine and divide their duties in an orderly manner to regulate human immunity, metabolism, nerve regulation, provide nutrition, energy, and even defend against the invasion of various pathogens, forming the human “intestinal microecosystem.”
These diseases are all related to bacterial imbalance
Dysbiosis is not only closely related to various digestive system diseases, such as Helicobacter pylori infection, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, etc., but also to metabolic diseases such as coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes, etc. Nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, anxiety, depression, etc., allergic diseases such as allergic rhinitis, asthma, etc., and tumors are all inextricably linked.
All in all, intestinal flora and the human body are inseparable and mutually beneficial and symbiotic.
Are all bacteria “bad things”?
Many people have misunderstandings about bacteria, thinking that bacteria are “bad things”. Indeed, there have been many incidents in history where bacterial infections have caused harm to humans, such as the Black Death (plague). But the bacteria in the intestines are not necessarily all bad guys. In fact, only a small proportion of the opportunistic and pathogenic bacteria that can cause infection are present.
The number of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria is not large, but they are “unstable molecules” in the intestine. When the balance of the bacterial flora is disrupted, these guys will take the opportunity to cause trouble and cause a variety of diseases. There are also some pathogenic bacteria that are out-and-out “bad guys”. They slip into the intestines and cause trouble, causing people to suffer from severe diarrhea and food poisoning.
However, most of the “indigenous” inhabitants of the intestinal flora are commensal flora. In addition to Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, and other bacteria that you can see in yogurt instructions, it also includes Escherichia coli.
Having said that, let’s dispel rumors about E. coli. Most E. coli strains are harmless and are necessary residents of our human intestines. E. coli helps digest the food we eat, producing vitamin B12 and chorismate (prevents blood clotting) and enterobactin (relieves constipation). Not only that, E. coli maintains a friendly environment for its anaerobic neighbors by consuming oxygen entering the gut, thus keeping true pathogens out of its gut niche.
Is intestinal flora testing “just needed”?
Since there are so many bacteria in the intestines, can I get tested? Can I know the distribution of my intestinal flora? There are already many commercial institutions providing this service. If you want to know whether intestinal flora testing is an “IQ tax”, let’s first briefly understand the general process of testing.
The test requires taking fresh stool samples, extracting microbial genetic information from them, conducting data analysis through high-throughput sequencing technology to identify microorganisms, and finally generating an interpretation report.
Gut flora testing programs are often expensive and can provide us with valuable information about the status of our gut flora. By analyzing the microbial DNA in the sample, this test can tell us the diversity, relative abundance, and whether there is an imbalance of the bacterial flora, and help us understand the microbial ecosystem in our intestines.
It usually contains information from the following modules, such as: intestinal flora balance, diversity of flora, the number of beneficial and harmful bacteria, etc., and can also assess the risk of certain diseases.
Intestinal flora testing can also help people understand the characteristics of their own intestinal microbial communities, which is of certain significance for preventing and treating intestinal-related diseases. It can also help people understand their own intestinal microecology and evaluate the health status of their intestinal flora. Intervene in nutrition, diet and lifestyle to reduce the risk of related diseases.
However, the research on intestinal microorganisms is still in its infancy. The relationship between intestinal flora and disease and health has not yet been completely determined, and many correlational phenomena do not mean there is a causal relationship. Except for some serious bacterial infections, the results of intestinal flora detection cannot be used to diagnose diseases, nor can they judge the patient’s health status, nor can they guide treatment.
Therefore, it is recommended that everyone choose intestinal flora testing rationally.
Six categories of people are suitable for probiotic supplementation
The rapid development of the probiotic industry has, to a certain extent, resulted in many problems such as improper use of probiotic concepts, unclear composition of core strains, and difficulty in scientifically defining functional properties. Faced with so many probiotic brands, how should we choose?
There are currently 28 species in the “List of Bacteria that Can be Used in Food” approved by the National Health Commission. The purpose of supplementation is to improve human gastrointestinal health, such as balancing intestinal flora, relieving intestinal inflammation, and alleviating irritable bowel syndrome, etc. .
When choosing probiotic products, focus on these three core characteristics: viable bacteria status, sufficient quantity, and health benefits.
Although probiotics are good, it does not need to be supplemented by everyone. The following six types of people are suitable for supplementing with probiotics:
Reasonable use of probiotics for people with acute diarrhea can help shorten the course of the disease.
The rational use of probiotics in people receiving long-term antibiotic treatment can significantly reduce the incidence of antibiotic-associated diarrhea and also help reduce the severity of antibiotic-associated diarrhea. The first choice is Bifidobacterium triple live bacteria powder/capsule, Bifidobacterium Lactobacillus triple live bacteria tablets.
For middle-aged and elderly people whose intestinal function is gradually weakening, it can help improve digestive function and is a useful health care measure.
People who are lactose intolerant often suffer from bloating and diarrhea. Appropriate supplementation of probiotics can help break down lactose.
Patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy are prone to bacterial flora imbalance and should actively supplement with probiotics.
Probiotic auxiliary treatment for infants and young children suffering from eczema can significantly improve the eczema score, improve the efficacy, and reduce the recurrence rate.
Text/Tian Ran, Liu Honghong, Tang Muyun and Feng Siqin (Peking Union Medical College Hospital)