Our world’s human population is only 7.6 billion as in June 2018. Within each of us is a world to another 100 trillion smallest and most primitive lives, living in our gut, from our mouth to anus. In other words, each human being is a planet to 100 trillion lives. This population of microorganisms literally outnumbers the total number of cells in our body by 10 times and the human population on earth by 10,000 times. The six-million-dollar question to be answered today is: “What are they doing inside us?”
The trillions of lives within our body is a diverse community of microorganisms. While human beings comprise four major races with thirty subgroups, the world of microorganisms consists of one thousand species. Out of these one thousand species of bacteria, 85 percent of them are beneficial bacteria and 15 percent harmful bacteria. This magic number is a balanced healthy ecosystem within us. The great colonies of beneficial bacteria have been doing their great jobs helping their world, which happens to be our body, to remain healthy and alive. What a wonderful phenomenon within us!
All these big numbers don’t really matter if they are not beneficial. The fact is that they are highly beneficial. Thus, they matter. So, let us explore the various benefits that they confer to us. These trillions of bacteria that weigh one to two kilogram all together, spreads out thinly all over the mucus surface of our gut like a large volume of roller balls spilled on a flat surface. They act on the surface cells of our intestine, enhancing their barrier function like a network of fencing that keeps out harmful invaders. They also produce useful enzymes and metabolites that enhance our immune system. In layman’s terms, they are like the frontline microscopic defence soldiers spreading all over the surface of our gut to keep out the enemy soldiers and to supply what our body needs for the maintenance of good health.
Our gut’s primary function is to digest food and convert them to useful nutrients for our body. Good gut health is therefore a prerequisite to the good overall health of our body.
Scientists have found that a healthy balance of gut bacteria is essential for the maintenance of our gut integrity, normal movement, digestion and synthesis of certain enzymes and vitamins. When the good balance of bacterial composition in our gut is disrupted adversely, our defence against infection, digestion and synthesis of certain vitamins such as B12 and K can be negatively affected. This can lead to both intestinal and extraintestinal diseases and complications.
The above understanding is being put to good use in a number of clinical conditions. For example, in infectious diarrhoea, the beneficial bacteria acts against harmful intestinal microbes by competing with them for available nutrients and space (binding sites) while producing a host of chemicals that boosts our immune response to the harmful microbes.
The role of a healthy gut environment in the development of cancer of the large intestine (colon) has become increasingly clear in recent years. The disruption of the healthy balance ecosystem of microbes in our gut is associated with genotoxicity and activation of various cancer developing pathways leading to the development of cancer of the colon. The regular replenishment of beneficial bacteria to maintain a healthy microbial ecosystem in our gut could potentially combat the development of colon cancer. Mind you, cancer of the colon will soon top the list of cancers in many countries. In my country Malaysia, it is now the second most common cancer and is expected to replace lung cancer in man and cervical cancer in women as the No. 1 cancer soon.
The stressful modern lifestyle and fast food recipe in this era are believed to be the causes of a syndrome of recurrent abdominal pain, discomfort and diarrhoea or constipation. This syndrome is known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The beneficial bacteria has been shown to normalise gut movement and sensitivity. In layman’s terms, beneficial bacteria can soothe our gut and pacify it. Thus, it is potentially beneficial to those people having Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Lastly, when choosing beneficial bacteria (commonly known as probiotics) for supplement, it is not only the number of CFU (colony forming units) that matters, since each bacteria strain exerts different health benefits. Some studies have shown that specific multi-strain preparations are more effective and provide a wider range of benefits than single strain preparations.
My next column will be on ‘The No. 1 cancer of women’.
Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases, excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skills in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected] Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977