4 Unique Ways Your Bodily Bacteria Might Impact Your Health
It may not be the most pleasant thought to consider but it is well-documented that the average, healthy person maintains about 2-3 pounds of bacteria in their intestinal tract. You read that correctly… the total population of microorganisms in just one section of your body can be weighed in pounds.
It has been estimated that this family of bacteria has nearly 100 trillion members, which is about 10x the quantity of total cells found in the human body. Based on their significant numbers it should come as no surprise that these bacteria, known as gut flora, can influence our health in many ways.
Some of these microorganisms are considered “good” bacteria which help digest nutrients and even produce different vitamins (e.g., Vitamin K); while others are considered “bad or infectious”, and can cause issues when their population begins to dominate the “good” bacteria working to our advantage.
Science continues to unravel the different effects bacteria can have on the various systems of our bodies. The following include a few of the major impacts these small invaders can have on our life and level of wellness.
- Obesity - A growing body of research shows that intestinal bacteria have a major influence on our body weight. This may be related to various factors including how well we digest and assimilate nutrients. Some studies have shown that obese people have less diversity in their gut flora, some have shown specific types of bacteria to be potentially associated with weight gain and others still have found that transplanting gut bacteria from an obese person into a thin person can actually cause them to gain weight.
- Immune system function - Nearly 70% of lymph nodes in the body surround the intestinal walls. Therefore, your gut is the primary area of the body where the immune system interacts with what you bring in from the outside world. When “bad or infectious” bacteria begin to proliferate for any given reason, this can have a direct impact on an individual’s resistance to colds, respiratory infections, acute diarrhea or even allergies.
- Brain function - Studies performed on mice have shown that gut bacteria can impact our mood and certain functions of the brain. Disrupting certain bacterial strains via antibiotic medications was shown to create changes in the mice’s brain chemistry associated with anxiety or depression. Researchers theorize that intestinal bacteria may have a part to play in producing, or stimulating the release of, certain neurotransmitters and hormones. However, it is not yet clear if and how these results apply to humans.
- Heart disease - Intestinal bacteria feed on many types of foods we consume. For example, food products such as bananas, oats and onions are known as prebiotics because they stimulate the growth of “good” bacteria in the digestive tract. Conversely, when certain gut bacteria feed on specific foods that are high in fat and cholesterol, such as beef or whole eggs, some recent research seems to indicate we experience an increased risk for specific forms of cardiovascular disease. These findings are preliminary, but clearly reinforce existing dietary recommendations associated with lowering one’s chances of heart disease.