The miracle of our gut
The bowels are the largest organ in the human body. They are eight metres long and consist of millions of villi. These are thin, finger-shaped protrusions which, inside our lower abdomen, form an impressive intestinal surface area as large as two tennis courts (around 400m²). In this way, the bowels have the body’s largest contact surface with the outside world.
Facts and figures of our gut:
- 100 billion bacteria settle in every single human being, most of which live in our intestinal walls
- Ten times as many bacteria live in our bowels as our organism has cells
- The microbes in our bowels weigh up to 2 kilos
- The bowels process around 30 tonnes of food and 50,000 litres of liquids during the course of our lives
- The bowels are supported in their work by more than 500 types of bacteria
- 80% of our immune system is based in our bowels
- Our digestive tract contains 100 million nerve cells – more than the spinal bone marrow – and is therefore sometimes referred to as the brain in the belly
- More than 20 hormones are produced in the bowels, including the happiness hormone serotonin and the sleep hormone melatonin
Health begins in the bowels
We only feel truly well when our digestion functions properly, because the intestines are a sensitive network of nerves controlling 80% of all metabolic processes in our bodies. Our bowels are therefore also described as the centre of our well-being. The gut flora (intestinal microbiota) is formed by billions of highly-active bacteria which carry out a wide variety of tasks day after day:
- Breaking down food
- Absorption of vitamins and minerals
- Production of essential vitamins, enzymes and amino acids
- Excretion of harmful components of food
- Production of 80% of our immune cells
- Production of proteins which kill viruses and bacteria (immunoglobulin or antibodies)
- Defence against pathogens and toxins
The strength of a tree comes from its roots – the strength of humans from their bowels.
When the gut is imbalanced
In order to fulfil the multitudes of functions it has, our intestinal wall needs a highly-efficient protective barrier. An army of billions of useful bacteria ensures that harmful microorganisms cannot settle in our intestines. The following factors can lead to the sensitive microorganism of our bowels becoming imbalanced:
- Constant physical and emotional stress which can lead to inflammation in our intestines
- Bad eating habits and insufficient exercise
- Medicines such as antibiotics which can destroy healthy gut flora as well as pathogens
A damaged gut flora can have a range of effects on our physical and mental well-being. The following disorders can occur when the microorganisms of our bowels are under strain:
- Bowel disorders such as diarrhoea, constipation, flatulence and abdominal pains
- Bowel disorders involving chronic inflammation such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Food intolerances such as celiac disease
- The formation of allergies
- Mental strain
These bacteria are especially efficient at breaking down the indigestible fibre from our food into so-called “short-chain” carbohydrates. This leads to the emergence of many simple sugar molecules in the gut. These are quickly absorbed and stored as fat deposits for “times of need”. An excess of Firmicutes means that up to 12% more calories are absorbed from every meal. Additionally, the Firmicutes possess an ability which makes it especially hard to lose weight: in “times of fasting” they turn our body into energy saving mode so that our body burns less calories than it normally would. As soon as we start eating normally again, every single calorie is extracted from our food and we gain weight again: this is the so-called yo-yo effect.
Nowadays, oftentimes our diets contain more sugar than our bodies need. Sugar is unhealthy for humans because it can quickly be converted into alcohol in the gut, which in turn damages the liver. Bacteroidetes recognise this excess sugar and encapsulate these unnecessary carbohydrates directly in the gut. In this way, the “surplus” can be excreted via the stool. Stool analyses confirm this: If the gut flora is rich in Bacteroidetes, our excretions contain more unspent calories than when there is a Firmicute oversupply.
Tips for a sustainable, gut-healthy lifestyle on the road to your dream body:
- Purposely integrate movement into your day-to-day life: take a walk between bus-stops, use the stairs instead of the elevator, take the bike instead of the car etc. – this boosts the metabolism and energy consumption. Athletes have a much larger variety of intestinal flora and lower inflammatory markers than that of non-athletes.
- Use fresh foods and prepare your meals yourself! That way you know exactly what you’re eating and avoid hidden sugars, fats and additives. Whole grain products offer, among others, valuable long-chain carbohydrates, fish and plant oils contain important unsaturated fatty acids, and fruits and veggies provide you with vitamins and fibres – and, to top it all off, healthy foods give you an added boost of energy!
- Take drugs with caution: antibiotics or antacids (proton pump inhibitors) are prescribed too often and can massively damage the intestinal flora. That is why you should ask your doctor to find out, for example, if an infection either has a viral or bacterial cause. If the intake of antibiotics is really necessary, always think about taking care of your good bacteria by using specially designed probiotics.
- Integrate food for your bacteria in your diet: So-called prebiotics are fibres that stimulate the growth and activity of helpful gut bacteria. These include inulin, pectins or oligofructose among others. They can be found naturally in foods such as chicory, salsify, sunroot or apple peels. You can also get scientifically developed prebiotics from the pharmacy that promote the growth of certain gut bacteria.
- Probiotics support the diversity of the intestinal flora and can help balance the ratio of Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes. Found out more about a suitable multi-species probiotic from your pharmacy.
- Patience is key to a sustainable change in lifestyle: whoever neglects their body and especially their intestines for many years, can’t expect a miracle within a few weeks. Stay on the ball and gradually build new habits and make them permanent.
Giving the bowels a helping hand
Whether our bowels are healthy depends largely on our lifestyle. Sufficient exercise, plenty of the right liquids, food which is healthy and contains fibre, and avoiding unnecessary medication – all these help the bowels to function well. However, if inflammation has formed in the bowels, it is important to counteract it effectively and to restore a strong barrier against damaging bacteria and allergens. To free the intestines from pathogenic toxins and putrefactive bacteria, certain active bacterial strains are decisive which can be used for treatment in the form of synbiotics.
The power of synbiotics
Synbiotics help to resettle the bowels with healthy bacteria again and to force pathogens out. High-quality synbiotics consist of substances which induce the growth of bacteria (prebiotics) and billions of natural bacteria capable of propagation (probiotics). High-dosage synbiotics are recommended increasingly frequently for the maintenance and restoration of a healthy bowel ecosystem. Their effect has been proven in numerous studies and confirmed by scientists. In a highly-concentrated form they support the regeneration and the health of our intestines, so that our digestion can function again and the bowels can become the centre of well-being.