The gut is a complex organ, but what at first glance looks like chaos is in fact a brilliant system. The bacteria in the intestine have a major impact on health. If you are tempted to think: ‘Yuck, bacteria!’ please rest assured: nothing works without bacteria! From the moment we are born, they colonise our body, inside and out. This is a good thing; indeed it is essential for survival. We live in a symbiotic balance with bacteria, and really need them for our health. The majority of these ‘health custodians’ live in the gut, and the greater their diversity, the better for us.
In order for the intestines to correctly fulfil their role as nutrient providers and essential components of the immune system, they need good bacterial colonisation and a healthy mucous membrane. When these factors are compromised, pathogens find it easier to spread, leading to an over-burdening of the immune system and increased susceptibility to infection.
The arrival of bacteria
Before birth, the human body is almost germ-free. Bacterial colonisation begins during the birth process, because this is when contact with the outside world begins. The bacteria’s settlement into the body is influenced by the type of delivery (natural or by caesarean section), an infant’s diet, the level of hygiene in the environment, and the use of medication, including antibiotics. Colonisation in adults varies widely and depends on a range of factors such as age, location, health, stress, use of laxatives, socio-economic status and – most importantly – diet.