Intestinal flora

The intestinal flora (microbiome) is the totality of all intestinal bacteria. Read more about the structure and function of the intestinal flora!

Intestinal flora

The term intestinal flora (Microbiota, microbiome of the intestine) refers to all microorganisms that colonize the human intestine. That's up to 99 percent of all bacteria that live in and on the human body. Read about the various intestinal bacteria, their tasks and health problems that affect the intestinal flora!

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intestinal flora

  • What is the intestinal flora?

  • What is the function of the intestinal flora?

  • Where is the intestinal flora?

  • What problems can the intestinal flora cause?

What is the intestinal flora?

The intestinal flora is the totality of all intestinal bacteria, which colonize parts of the human large intestine (in a small amount also the rectum). The term gut flora comes from the earlier assumption that this accumulation of microorganisms belongs to the plant kingdom. But as the bacteria belong to a separate kingdom (Protista), the term gut bacteria, intestinal microbiome or intestinal microbiota is the better term.

The majority of intestinal flora - more than 400 different intestinal bacteria species - lives in the colon (on the intestinal wall). Their number is estimated at about 10 trillion, their total weight to about one and a half kilograms.

Intestinal flora: enterotypes

Depending on the dominant bacterial strain, three different types of intestinal flora can be roughly distinguished, so-called enterotypes (from Latin entero = intestine):

  • Enterotype 1: contains particularly many bacteria of the genus Bacteroides, which split carbohydrates and are good producers of the vitamins biotin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid
  • Enterotype 2: contains a particularly large number of bacteria of the genus Prevotella, which can degrade sugar-protein complexes and produce vitamin B1 and folic acid
  • Enterotype 3: contains especially many Ruminococcus bacteria, which can digest sugar and proteins very well

Experts discuss whether the composition of the intestinal flora can be specifically and permanently influenced by the type of diet (fiber content, etc.).

Development of intestinal flora in children

The intestine of a still unborn child is still completely sterile. Only with the birth process begins its colonization with microorganisms: bacteria of the maternal intestinal flora reach in a natural (vaginal) birth through the mouth of the baby in the gastrointestinal tract, where they build the child's intestinal flora and gradually form a stable microbiome.

What is the function of the intestinal flora?

The vital intestinal flora fulfills various tasks:

The intestinal bacteria support digestion. They produce short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, acetate and propionate from indigestible dietary fiber. These cover a large part of the energy requirement of the colon mucosa. In addition, the short-chain fatty acids promote the intestinal muscles and play an important role in the mobility of the intestine (intestinal motility).

The intestinal flora produces various vitamins that the body can use for itself (even though only a small part of it can be absorbed in the large intestine). These include biotin, folic acid and vitamins B2, B12 and K.

Some intestinal bacteria can neutralize toxic (toxic) substances, such as nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrogens. Many of these compounds are considered carcinogenic.

Some medications are only converted into their active (effective) form during the metabolism through the intestinal flora. This applies, for example, to antibiotics from the group of sulfonamides and to the anti-inflammatory drug sulfsalazine.

The intestinal flora is extremely important for the immune defense. The intestinal mucosa has a surface area of โ€‹โ€‹300 to 500 square meters and thus represents the largest interface of the body dar. The here "good" intestinal bacteria prevent disease-causing germs spread and intestinal infections can trigger. In addition, the intestinal bacteria train via special signal structures in the gut localized part of the immune system (intestine-associated immune system)

Where is the intestinal flora?

The intestinal flora colonizes especially the colon (colon). Small intestinal bacteria are also found in the rectum (rectum).

What problems can the intestinal flora cause?

As long as the intestinal flora bacteria remain in the intestine, they are generally harmless. However, if they get into other organs (for example, into the blood or into the vagina of women), they can cause disease.

The colonization of the small intestine with intestinal bacteria is low. This is to avoid nutrients from the diet, such as vitamin B12, being metabolized by intestinal bacteria instead of being absorbed into the body via the small intestinal mucosa. If, however, by surgery, for example, blind-ending intestinal loops are present, the bacterial density in the small intestine can rise so much that caused by the vitamin B12 deficiency anemia.

If medication inhibits gastric acid secretion (such as heartburn or gastritis), it may interfere with the composition of the intestinal flora over time.

The administration of antibiotics can also confuse the human microbiome. It can then be inhibited in their growth and promote others in their growth individual intestinal bacteria species. The balance of the intestinal flora is lost. The result may be mild symptoms such as diarrhea, but also severe inflammation in the colon.

If the Bifidus and Bacteroides intestinal bacteria, which synthesize vitamin K, which is important for blood coagulation, are damaged by medication, blood clotting can be disrupted.

Coadministration of antibiotics and anticoagulants (blood thinners) may cause severe bleeding.

The composition of the intestinal flora influences the occurrence of colon cancer and other diseases. With probiotics, many people take targeted "good" bacteria for the intestine (such as lactic acid bacteria) to strengthen their intestinal flora, such as diarrhea. Supplied in sufficient amounts, probiotics can actually prevent rotavirus diarrhea and help with diarrhea caused by radiotherapy or antibiotics. The bacteria supplied as probiotics settle but only with regular intake in the intestinal flora. If the intake ends, they disappear again and it turns over again the "old" intestinal flora on.

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