Gut Bacteria (Part I)

A healthy immune system involves maintaining friendly bacteria in the gut.

The flora in our gastrointestinal system effects our health in various ways. The balance of good and bad bacteria determines the strength of our immune system. Bacteria is affected by what we eat, what medications have been taken, such as antibiotics, antacids and environmental factors of what we have been exposed.

In a healthy human, the G.I. tract is comprised of approximately 1014 bacteria living in a supportive relationship with the body. Less than 25% of bacteria strains have been identified and cultured—so much is unknown. Our gut bacteria is extremely diverse—not one person has exactly the same bacteria composition as another. We are each unique with our own diverse set of bacteria. The average number of dominant bacterial species in our gut is estimated to be about 100 different organisms; however over 400 different species have been identified. Some bacteria is transient, which means it is temporary and some is resident, which means permanent. Also, different species of bacteria occupies different parts of the G.I. tract.

The gut microflora begins to establish during the first 2 years of life. At birth, the G.I. tract is sterile and lacks any bacteria. The first exposure is the passing of the baby through the birth canal. The baby is then exposed to bacteria by the mother’s vaginal tissues, intestines and skin. Continuous exposure over the next few years with new bacteria from the environment further diversifies the species. The colonization of the baby’s gut has an impact on the resistance to infection and as well as the development of mucosal immunity.

Outside factors effecting the baby’s colonization includes: C-sections where the baby is not exposed to the vaginal, intestinal or skin of the mother, antibiotics taken by mother or given to the baby, which kills both good and bad bacteria, diet of mother and environmental factors of bacteria from caregivers at time of birth. Breast fed babies also have different bacteria from bottle fed babies.

Continued in Part II (next newsletter)
Long term effects of antibiotics and antacids on our GI microflora.