Flora is that essential living companion from birth, which is housed in the intestine, an organ so important that some nickname it “the second brain”. Terms such as microbiota or intestinal flora may be familiar to some of you, or you may even have had to take probiotics for some reason. That is why in this article we will explain what the role of this intestinal flora is, what factors alter it, what relationship it has with our state of health and how to take care of our microbiota.
What is the microbiota?
The term microbiota refers to the community of microorganisms gathered in a certain place. The surface of the skin and mucous membranes such as those of the nose, mouth or intestinal tract are densely populated with microorganisms. In fact, the colon, which is the last part of the intestine and digestive tract, is the most densely populated.
In the small intestine there is a very small number of bacteria because the acid secretions of the stomach, pancreatic and biliary secretions destroy most of the ingested microorganisms. In addition, intestinal movements are more energetic, which prevents the implantation of microorganisms.
In the colon the bacterial population is higher because intestinal transit is slower, there are adequate viscosity and temperature conditions, and above all, there are no mechanisms to suppress bacterial growth.
What is known and what is not (yet) known about the flora or microbiota
The vaginal and intestinal microbiome (the set of microbes and their genes) are very similar. The baby receives part of its microbial load during the moment of birth itself, which are vaginal and fecal bacteria from the mother. Babies born by cesarean section have a different pattern of bacteria because they do not pass through the vaginal canal. They also have a lower bacterial diversity. The type of breastfeeding will also determine the design of the microbiota.
During the first year of life, the microbiota usually reaches this balance, as a result of interaction not only with the mother, but also with food and the environment. The intestinal microbiota is enriched over the years but will always retain a trace of its early profile from early infancy.
Functions of the flora or microbiota
The microbiota feeds us, nourishes us: the bacterial fermentation of the fiber we eat produces energy, a kind of “fuel” for our intestinal cells.
Moreover, this fermentation produces fatty acids that are associated with the reduction of certain types of cancer.
The microbiota also plays a role in the production of vitamin K, B12, the formation of amino acids or the improvement of iron and calcium absorption in the colon.
Barrier functions: preventing the invasion of infectious agents, maintaining a balance of species and avoiding overgrowth.
Functions on cell wall health, they collaborate/participate in the replacement and differentiation of intestinal wall cells.
The microbiota collaborate in the defense against diseases because they regulate the immune system Functions on the regulation of the immune system.
The intestinal flora tries to keep itself in balance. It has the capacity of the “barrier effect” that is to say that it prevents the invasion of foreign bacterial elements avoiding infectious diseases. The bacteria of our microbiota are installed in such a way as to prevent colonization by exogenous or pathogenic bacteria.
On the other hand, the cells of the intestinal wall have to perform a complex task to distinguish pathogenic bacteria, viruses and respond accordingly to avoid infection while tolerating the bacteria of the microbiota. This immunotolerance is related to the interaction between the immunocompetent actors of the intestinal mucosa and the microbiota. A loss of balance, or dysbiosis, could compromise immunity and trigger inflammatory responses.
How to take care of the intestinal flora or microbiota
Prioritize plant-based foods. Consume a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. They provide polyphenols with antioxidant function and serve to improve the composition of the microbiota and intestinal function.
Follow a diet rich in soluble fiber as it promotes the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria due to its prebiotic effect. It is found naturally in foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, tomatoes, bananas, plums or apples; in cereals such as bran and nuts such as almonds. Or whole-grain products such as pasta, rice or bread.