The term ‘gut bacteria’ is thrown around in various different contexts. Often, when someone is talking about good bacteria they are referring to the array of bacteria that colonise our guts. This community, AKA gut flora, is made up of a vast network of bugs that exist in a mutualistic, symbiotic relationship- meaning both the human host and the gut bacteria co-exist, and reap benefits from one another.

The Purpose of Gut Bacteria

Our gut bacteria serve a very important purpose- without which we wouldn’t be able to survive with the health status we currently experience. It’s widely accepted that a healthy gut flora leads to a healthy human in general, but what is it exactly that our microscopic friends do for us? A key function is facilitating metabolism of both nutrients and drugs we consume in our diet; without this function we would struggle to gain any benefit from our food or pharmaceuticals. We receive protective benefits too; the intestinal flora has the ability to prevent infections via interference with pathogens.

The majority of the gut microbiota is dispersed all the way from the oesophagus to the rectum. It’s a complex and vast ecosystem containing an estimated 400 species of bacteria- all of which contribute to many normal bodily functions such as our weight levels, skin condition and heart function; they even reach as far as brain function and mood. It’s estimated that there are over 100 trillion bacterial cells in the gut- ten times more than our own cells. However, even more astonishingly, there are believed to be ten times more virus particles than bacterial cells, all somehow contributing to general health.

So how do we look after the microscopic friends that reside in our bellies? Recent research has revealed there is more to food breakdown than initially thought. We breakdown large food molecules so the nutrients can be absorbed into the blood plasma, however we now know some of this nourishment goes towards nourishing the health-promoting bacteria in the gut, and therefore providing well-being indirectly with bacterial aid. Eating less processed foods and more fermented foods can have a huge benefit on your gut flora and, supposedly, general health as a result. Moreover probiotics (live bacteria that are claimed to be good for you) can be added to your diet via supplements or specialist foods. We are constantly taking measures to ensure that we are safe from harmful bacteria in our day-to-day lives. Once in a while perhaps we should spare a thought for the bugs that are on our side, and look after ourselves from the inside out.