Microorganisms, a prerequisite for life
Our human body consists of about 10 trillion cells and we carry about twice that amount of microorganisms in and on our bodies. In fact, the microorganisms in our gastrointestinal tract is now recognized as one of our most important organs. It weighs around two kilos and both the number of microorganisms and their diversity are vital for maintaining the balance in the body.
Microorganisms, particularly bacteria, colonize every surface of the body that is exposed to the external environment, including the skin, our nasal and oral cavity and the most importantly, our gastrointestinal tract i.e. our stomach, small intestine and the colon.
In this way these microorganisms cover us in an invisible body armour, that keeps environmental insults out and help us stay healthy. In addition to that, and among other things, they educate our immune system, help digest our food by breaking it down and absorb nutrients, produce certain vitamins and they are our first line of defence against foreign and pathogenic microorganisms.
Bacteria, friends or enemies?
Bacteria are one kind of microorganisms and they are exceptionally important for human health. Historically, all we knew about bacteria was that they were causing infections and disease, that they were pathogenic. Today we know that bacteria are generally beneficial and together with other microorganisms vital for keeping us alive.
There is a continues battle going on and our body is under constant attack from foreign bacteria and viruses. Luckily we have safeguards to protect us, a well balanced microbiota, a tight mucosa, and an efficient immune response.
Bacteria can be found everywhere – in and on our entire body, in the air, in dirt, in fermented food like yoghurt and miso. They can even live in hot springs and glaciers. Actually most bacteria are friendly and only a few bacteria that may cause disease. This is why it is so important to keep a good bacteria balance in your body.
The importance of gut balance
Our gastrointestinal microbiota and our lifestyle are strongly connected. About 80 percent of our immune system is located in our gut and the balance between good and bad bacteria plays an important role for staying healthy.
In a balanced gut outnumber the bad ones by ten to one. If bad bacteria start to exceed it may lead to various health conditions. In fact, new research indicates that there is a connection between an unbalanced microbiota and many common conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and asthma.
The fact that our lifestyle has changed dramatically over the last 50 years has definitely left its marks. Many of these lifestyle changes have negatively affected our microbiota – antibiotics and other drugs, obsessive hygiene, giving birth by caesarean section, poor eating habits, excessive exercising, traveling and a stressful living.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are good bacteria that are found in food or supplements. The definition is ”Live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” (WHO/FAO, 2002)
Important criteria for qualifying as a true probiotic is that health benefits should be proven in clinical trials. Furthermore, a probiotic product must contain the same bacterial strain(s) and the same dose that was used in the clinical trials.