What Are Gut Flora? 

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Gut flora is an ecological system of viruses, bacteria, fungi and archaea that lives in the digestive tract of the human body. Gut flora is also known as gut microbiota or gut microbiome. Gut flora play an important role in the homeostasis of the gastrointestinal tract, and in protecting the body against pathogens as it forms part of the body's immune function. Several studies have been done to determine the impact of gut flora on health, as the composition of the gut flora is associated with some diseases

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Composition Of Gut Flora

Gut flora is formed out of trillions of microorganisms of several species, containing bacteria, fungi, parasites and viruses. This microbiome in the gastrointestinal tract is both supportive to maintain a healthy gut, and potentially harmful. The good microbes that the gut flora exists of are symbiotic - meaning that the body and the gut flora both benefit from the function. The pathogenetic microbes can potentially be harmful when the gut flora is altered. 

When the gut flora is in a healthy balance, the symbiotic microbes and pathogenetic microbes coexist to maintain homeostatic stability. When the composition of the microbes change through various factors, that are discussed below, there exist an imbalance in the gut flora. 


Development of Gut Flora

Gut flora starts developing during the infant stage after birth. When the mucosal lining is formed and the epithelial lining starts developing, the gut flora is established alongside this physiological development. There are 2 important stages in forming a healthy gut flora during infancy. The first stage is during breastfeeding. Research shows that this is most likely the dominant factor in forming a healthy gut flora. The second stage is called the weaning period, where an infant is transitioning from breastfeeding to solid foods. The composition of the gut flora undergoes changes with aging and with exposure to microorganisms, to develop a complex variety of microbiota. 

Furthermore, there are dominant gut microbiota through different stages, that alter with aging. Each individual’s gut flora will differ due to different exposure, environmental factors and diet. The gut flora also changes continuously depending on various factors. 


  • Bacteria: Dominating bacteria include Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, with diverse genera like Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, and Clostridium. These bacteria account for 90% of the intestinal gut flora.
  • Viruses: Bacteriophages- can also influence and regulate bacterial populations.
  • Fungi: The most common fungi are Candida albicans. Smaller amounts of Cladosporium and Saccharomyces are also frequently seen.
  • Archaea (single-celled micro-organisms): Methanogens like Methanobrevibacter. 


Functions Of Gut Flora 

A healthy, balanced gut microbiota is important in supporting immune function, metabolic processes to break down food and to protect the body against pathogens that can cause disease. The gut flora is functioning as what some call a ‘metablic organ’. Gut flora have an important role in various physiological functions:



Gut flora assists in fermentation of dietary fibre into beneficial short-chain fatty acids. These fatty acids nourish gut cells, regulate inflammation and even influence mood through a term called ‘gut-brain axis’.  The gut microbes break down complex carbohydrates to release valuable nutrients and energy. It also assists is metabolising bile acids, drugs, xenobiotics (chemical substances)  and sterols in some food (mayonnaise, almond oil, sesame oil, nut butter etc).


Vitamin Production  

Vitamin K and vitamin B has been synthesised through gut flora, which is essential for blood clotting, bone health and energy production. This enhances good nutrition in the body. 


Support Immune System

Gut flora are the frontline defense agains pathogens that enter the body. It neutralises pathogens, through competing with harmful bacteria and supress it, to regulate immunity and to prevent infections.


Hormone Regulation

Gut flora interacts with the endocrine system and can influence hormones like leptin (appetite control) and serotonin (associated with mood).


Maintaining Intestinal Epithelium

The intestinal barrier is important for homeostasis in the intestines.  


How Gut Flora Can Be Damaged

Environmental factors alongside with diet causes changes in the compositon of the gut flora. It also changes with aging and lifestyle. 

The main factors contributing to damaged gut flora includes a lack of sleep, processed foods containing high sugar and fat intake, alcohol, smoking, chronic stress, and lack of physical activity. Antibiotics can damage good bacteria, while the bad bacteria is also killed, thus is should be used with care and with probiotics. The gut flora, can be less diverse when it is damaged, and consequently it can not optimally provide the functions it should. 


How Do You Know If Your Gut Flora Is Damaged? 

Symptoms Of An Unhealthy Gut Flora 

When any of the following physical symptoms are present, it can be an indication that a better look should be given at gut health to restore the gut balance. 

  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Bloating and gas
  • Nausea 
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Unintentional weight loss or weight gain 
  • Malnutrition 
  • Heartburn or acid reflux 
  • Irritable bowel 
  • Fatigue 


Complications Of Damaged Gut Flora 

Recently, research has been done to link the composition of gut microbiota to the outcome of certain diseases and complications. Altered gut composition has been linked to the development of inflammatory diseases and infections. 

When the gut is in an unhealthy state, it can cause immune dysregulation because of the important role of gut flora in immune function. This may lead to immune disorders. Research suggests that auto-immune disoreds are among the most prevalent. Chronic inflammation in the intestines leads to inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease. With this mentioned, it is also found that genetic predisposition of an individual is an important factor to take into consideration with the development of inflammatory bowel diseases. 


How To Take Care Of Gut Flora

Gut flora is essential for functions, immunity and good health in the body. If severe symptoms arrise, consult a medical doctor for the corret diagnosis and medical treatment as soon as possible. 

However, there are lifestyle modifications that are found to have a positive effect on gut flora. 

  • Maintain healthy stress levels 
  • Use probiotics and prebiotics
  • Get sufficient sleep
  • Consider temporarily switching to a plant-based diet 
  • Chew more thoroughly when eating
  • Include fermented foods in diet (such as kombucha and kefir water)
  • Consume a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables
  • Eat anti-inflammatory foods


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