NEWSLETTER: Medical News Today
We can carry up to 2 kg of microbes in our gut. Within the tens of trillions of micro-organisms that live there are at least 1,000 species of bacteria consisting of over 3 million genes. What is more, two-thirds of the gut microbiome – the population of microbes in the intestine – is unique to each individual. But do you know how your gut microbiota could be influencing your health?
The bacteria in our gut are estimated to weigh up to 2 kg.
of us are aware that the bacteria in our gut play an important role in
digestion. When the stomach and small intestine are unable to digest certain
foods we eat, gut microbes jump in to offer a helping hand, ensuring we get the
nutrients we need.
addition, gut bacteria are known to aid the production of certain vitamins
– such as vitamins B and K – and play a major role in immune function.
increasingly, researchers are working to find out more about how gut bacteria –
particularly the bacteria that is unique to us individually – influence our
health and risk of disease.
most studied is how gut microbiota affects an individual’s risk of obesity
and other metabolic conditions. In November 2014, for example, Medical
reported on a study claiming our
genetic makeup shapes what type of bacteria reside in our gut, which
may affect our weight
this Spotlight, we take a look at obesity and some of the other – perhaps
surprising – health conditions that may be driven by our gut microbiota.
The development of gut
has long held that the development of gut microbiota does not start until
birth, with the gastrointestinal tract of a fetus considered to be a sterile
– an information service
created by the Gut Microbiota and Health Section of the European Society for
Neurogastroenterology & Motility, a member of the United European
Gastroenterology (UEG) – the digestive tract of a newborn is rapidly colonized
with micro-organisms from the mother and the surrounding environment.
An infant’s gut microbiota, for example, can be influenced by breastfeeding. Gut Microbiota Worldwatch explains that the gut of breastfed babies primarily consists of Bifidobacteria
– considered a “friendly” bacteria that benefits the gut – while formula-fed babies are likely to have less of these bacteria.
some studies have challenged the belief that the fetus is a sterile
environment, suggesting that the development of gut microbiota begins before
A 2008 study
published in the journal Research in Microbiology
identified bacteria, including Enterococcus
, in the early faeces of baby mice – known as the meconium – indicating the bacteria were transferred to the fetus from the mother’s gut during pregnancy.
In this study, a group of pregnant mice was also inoculated with the bacterium Enterococcus fecium
, which was isolated from human breast milk. The baby mice were delivered by Cesarean section 1 day before the predicted labour date, and their meconium was tested. The researchers identified E. fecium
in their faeces, but no trace was found in the meconium of a control group.
on the sum of evidence, it is time to overturn the sterile womb paradigm and
recognize the unborn child is first colonized in the womb,” Seth
Bordenstein, a biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, told The
The more diverse our gut
bacteria, the better
the debate over whether infants are born with gut bacteria continues, it seems
scientists are in agreement about one thing: from birth until old age, our gut
bacteria are constantly evolving.
As mentioned previously, two-thirds of the gut microbiome is unique to each person, and what makes this unique is the food we eat, the air we breathe and other environmental factors. Some studies have even suggested the makeup of the gut microbiome is influenced by genes.
how does this unique gut bacteria affect our health? This is a question that
researchers have become increasingly interested in answering.
research has suggested that a broader diversity of bacteria in gut is better
for human health. A recent study reported by MNT
, for example, found
that infants with less diverse gut bacteria at the age of 3 months were more
likely to be sensitized to specific foods
– including egg, milk and peanut – by the age of 1 year, indicating that lack
of gut bacteria diversity in early life may be a driver for food
the implications of a low-diversity gut microbiome do not stop there. You may
be surprised to learn how lack of or overpopulation of specific bacteria may
impact your health.
and more studies are looking at the association between the gut microbiome and
weight gain, with some scientists suggesting the makeup of bacteria in the gut
may influence an individual’s susceptibility to weight gain.