A pet called ‘microbe’ and three P’s



Don’t microorganisms like viruses and bacteria cause different diseases? They are harmful to us, aren’t they? What if I told you that there are billions of beneficial microorganisms in our bodies? Not only do they help us digest food, they also play an important role in improving mental and physical health. Germs can be found in our skin, nose, mouth, and intestines.

They live with us. We have to take care of them, as we would a pet, and feed them properly for our own good as well as for theirs. They protect us from pathogens, which make us sick. These microbes are together called the human microbiota.

Each human’s microbiota is unique. The microbiota is like a fingerprint that can be used for identification methods. A child first receives germs from its mother during birth. As humans mature, they obtain microbes from the environment, from food, and from the people they interact with. The types of microbes available in our body depend on different things. Events such as premature birth, cesarean section, normal childbirth affect the microbiota. Also, a breastfed child has different types of germs than a child who has had little or no breast milk. The initial differences in microbites related to how a person was born usually show no indication early in life, but are significant later in life. Differences in the microbiota early in life may be linked to later illnesses such as allergies and obesity.

Interestingly, breast milk contains nutrients for both the infant and their microbiota. The oligosaccharide present in breast milk is considered a food (prebiotic) for the microbiota. A child cannot consume this, so it becomes food for germs inside the body. Germs grow with the child and change with the age of the child. Differences in everyone’s gut microbiota help explain why people react differently to the same food.

Complementary food is as important for germs as it is for a child. Switching to complementary milk-based foods increases the diversity of microbes in a child’s body.

Important facts about the microbiota:

  • The microbiota is important for the development of our immune system. When a child’s immune system encounters different germs, it learns which is harmful and which is harmless. If a child grows up in a germ-free environment or faces too many antibiotics, the system cannot mature. As a result, it cannot differentiate between non-pathogenic substances. This can create problems, including food allergies or autoimmune diseases.

  • A healthy gut not only helps the digestive system to function properly, but it also promotes stable mood, happiness, and stronger memory. Our brain and gut have two-way interactions – the brain affects the gut and the gut affects the brain. Interactions occur through certain neurotransmitters, most of which exist in the gut. If there are too many pathogens in our gut, bowel-related disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can occur.
  • The gut microbiota produces various vitamins, including vitamin B12, thiamine and riboflavin, and K which are necessary for good health.

So how do we keep our microbiota and our body healthy? To understand this question, we need to know the three Ps.

Pre-biotic: Prebiotics are dietary fibers that stimulate the growth and activity of microbes in our body. Prebiotics are found in foods high in fiber like asparagus, onions, oatmeal, walnuts, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, legumes and bananas. We should include prebiotic foods in our daily diet to get the beneficial effects of gut microbes.

Pro-biotics: Probiotics are living microbes that are available in different foods and in supplement form. Different studies highlight the benefits of consuming probiotic supplements and show encouraging results for specific conditions; however, the research is unclear on the benefits at the population level. In addition, each person’s microbiota is unique. One type of probiotic may behave differently in another person. Different people may need different types of probiotics or different doses of the same probiotic. In this situation, it is a good idea to obtain probiotics from food. Sourdough bread, fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses are good sources of probiotics. Probiotics help balance our “good” and “bad” bacteria for the body to function properly. When we lose “good” bacteria in our bodies, such as after taking antibiotics, probiotics can help us replace them.

Post-biotic: Post-biotics are a by-product of the fermentation process that occurs when prebiotics feed the probiotics in our gut. Post-biotics include organic acids, enzymes, and carbonaceous substrates that are believed to help regulate the makeup of microbes. The sources of post-biotics are the same as probiotics. There is research evidence that most of the positive effects we get from probiotics are actually due to post-biotics.

In short, prebiotics provide food for probiotics, and probiotics produce post-biotics that affect a range of physiological processes. By ensuring these three Ps in our diet, we can keep our microbiota healthy as well as our body.

Gut microbiota in different health conditions

Changes in the gut microbes have been found in different diseases of our body. Examples include:

Alzheimer’s disease: It was found in a study that people with Alzheimer’s disease had different microbes in their gut than healthy people. It is believed that intestinal bacteria promote the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Parkinson’s disease: Scientists have discovered links between gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease. Changes in the composition of gut bacteria can contribute to this.

Depression: According to a study of over 2,100 adults, depressed people were found to have lower levels of specific bacteria.

Autoimmune disease: There is some evidence that people with autoimmune diseases have a higher than normal level of the bacteria BacteroidesFragilis in their gut.

Obesity: In obese people, specific bacterial changes have been found that influence hunger hormones and lead to obesity.

Diabetes: It has been found that patients with type 2 diabetes have differences in their microbes compared to people without the disease.

Heart disease: Certain germs affect blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. They also damage arteries and blood vessels by producing harmful substances.

Later in life, hormonal regulation, physical activity, smell and taste change. It affects our microbes and can create different complications.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Feed your germs properly by including their foods in your diet.
  • Let the children help in the garden and play with the pets to promote various germs.
  • Get enough sleep at night. Losing just two days of sleep can destroy beneficial germs. Sleep loss is as serious as a poor diet and insufficient rest.
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. By using too many antibiotics, we kill many good germs.
  • Don’t disinfect everything.
  • The timing of the meal is important as well as relaxation during the meal instead of rushing. Eating late at night, when you’re less active, can promote the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria.
  • Stress is an enemy of gut health.
  • Exercise is necessary.

There is still a lot to explore about the potential of our microbes. Based on the available knowledge, we can say that if we take care of our microbes, we could reduce the risk of different difficult diseases. Today, microbes are used to cure certain illnesses through fecal microbe transplant therapy. In addition, fecal material banks are being developed for the treatment of patients with multiple infections. More emphasis should be placed on personalized nutrition that takes into account differences in human character, habits and social environments in addition to physiological differences or illnesses.

The writer is a public health professional. E-mail: [email protected]


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