“For individuals with stomach issues, can maintaining gut flora balance promote and improve gut health?”
Table of Contents
Gut Flora Balance
Maintaining gut flora balance is part of optimal digestive health. Gut microbiota, gut microbiome, or gut flora, are the microorganisms, including bacteria, archaea, fungi, and viruses that live in the digestive tract. The type and amount of bacteria present depend on their location in the body which could be the small intestine and colon. This is the storage housing for waste/stool, and the colon comprises hundreds of different types of bacteria, which have specific jobs and functions.
The more common pathogens are bacteria that can cause illness if left unchecked, including germs like streptococcus/strep throat or E. coli/urinary tract infections and diarrhea. Other common germs found in the colon include: (Elizabeth Thursby, Nathalie Juge. 2017)
- C. diff overgrowth can cause watery foul-smelling stools daily, and abdominal pain and tenderness.
- Enterococcus faecalis is a cause of post-surgical abdominal and urinary tract infections.
- E. coli is the most common cause of diarrhea in adults.
- This bacteria is present in almost every healthy adult’s colon.
- Klebsiella overgrowth is associated with a Western diet that consists of various meat and animal products.
- Bacteroide overgrowth is associated with colitis, which causes painful inflammation of the colon.
Healthy bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus, help maintain gut flora balance and keep the unhealthy bacteria in check. Without healthy flora, the entire colon can become overrun by bad flora, which can result in symptoms like diarrhea and/or illness. (Yu-Jie Zhang, et al., 2015) These protective, microscopic germs have important functions that include:
- Assisting with vitamin synthesis – vitamins B and K in the small intestine.
- Increases immune system function.
- Maintaining regular bowel movements.
- Maintaining a clean colon naturally without the need for colon cleansers.
- Destroying the unhealthy bacteria.
- Preventing unhealthy bacteria overgrowth.
- Breaking up gas bubbles from food fermentation.
Whether labeled as healthy bacteria or unhealthy, they are both single-celled organisms that can be destroyed quite easily. Sometimes, it is necessary, like when having to take antibiotics to kill a strep throat infection. However, the antibiotics also kill the beneficial bacteria, which can lead to compounding problems that can include: (Mi Young Yoon, Sang Sun Yoon. 2018)
- Bowel irregularity – diarrhea and constipation.
- Yeast overgrowth – can cause itching, burning around the anus and lead to vaginal and oral yeast infections.
- Dysbiosis – the technical name for a lack of healthy bacteria or a bacterial imbalance.
- Complications for individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome.
There are different ways to destroy bacteria including.
- Individuals who need to take antibiotics to cure an infection. (Eamonn M M Quigley. 2013)
- Chronic laxative use.
- Fiber supplementation overuse.
- Prolonged diarrhea – can flush out the bad and good bacteria.
- Completing a bowel prep, like those required for a colonoscopy.
Diagnosing Gut Flora Issues
Many times, problems with gut flora will correct themselves, and no action is required. However, individuals facing chronic bowel problems, like colitis or inflammatory bowel disease, may require medical intervention of their colon’s bacteria.
- Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis/CDSA is a stool test that checks what type and amount of bacteria are present, nutrient absorption rates/digestion speed, and how well food is digested.
- If there is a significant difference in the proportion of unhealthy versus beneficial bacteria, a healthcare provider may suggest taking a probiotic or a live microbial supplement to help repopulate and maintain gut flora balance.
Thursby, E., & Juge, N. (2017). Introduction to the human gut microbiota. The Biochemical journal, 474(11), 1823–1836. doi.org/10.1042/BCJ20160510
Zhang, Y. J., Li, S., Gan, R. Y., Zhou, T., Xu, D. P., & Li, H. B. (2015). Impacts of gut bacteria on human health and diseases. International journal of molecular sciences, 16(4), 7493–7519. doi.org/10.3390/ijms16047493
Yoon, M. Y., & Yoon, S. S. (2018). Disruption of the Gut Ecosystem by Antibiotics. Yonsei medical journal, 59(1), 4–12. doi.org/10.3349/ymj.2018.59.1.4
Quigley E. M. (2013). Gut bacteria in health and disease. Gastroenterology & hepatology, 9(9), 560–569.
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