why do we have bacteria in our intestines

How is the microflora beneficial? The microflora has a multitude of benefitsв in fact we couldnвt survive without them. For example, they act like millions of little workers helping us to digest food, especially certain types of fibre and this gives us more energy, as well as being essential in helping us to absorb the beneficial antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables. They also help to build our natural defences as soon as we are born and then help to maintain our immune system throughout our lives.

One way in which they do this is by forming a microscopic вprotective carpetв on our intestinal surface and then acting like thousands of tiny вsurveillance sentriesв,
helping to stop pathogens entering the body through the digestive tract. The composition of our microbiota evolves throughout our entire life, from birth to old age, and is the result of different environmental influences Gut microbiotaвs balance can be affected during the ageing process and, consequently, the elderly have substantially different microbiota to younger adults.

While the general composition of the intestinal microbiota is similar in most healthy people, the species composition is highly personalised and largely determined by our environment and our diet. The composition of gut microbiota may become accustomed to dietary components, either temporarily or permanently.

Japanese people, for example, can digest seaweeds (part of their daily diet) thanks to specific enzymes that their microbiota has acquired from marine bacteria. Although it can adapt to change, a loss of balance in gut microbiota may arise in some specific situations. This is called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis may be linked to health problems such as functional bowel disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies, obesity and diabetes.

Many studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of prebiotics and probiotics on our gut microbiota. Serving as вfood" for beneficial bacteria, prebiotics help improve the functioning of microbiota while allowing the growth and activity of some вgood" bacteria. Present in some fermented products such as yoghourt, probiotics help gut microbiota keep its balance, integrity and diversity.

Thanks to technological progress, the picture of the bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract is becoming clearer. Researchers now use a range of techniques, including the tools derived from molecular biology, to further clarify the mysteries of microbiota. While there are still some things that are yet to be discovered, more and more findings are being presented every day.

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