Intestinal health – All about improving the intestinal flora
Our gastrointestinal system is probably one of the most complex systems in our body. If you want to increase your well-being, then the following also applies: promote intestinal health.
Because the numerous tasks of the human intestine connect it closely with the entire organism. From hormone balance and the immune system to – of course – supplying the body with nutrients and fluids, the intestine plays a role everywhere.
The intestinal flora, i.e. the microbial composition of the intestine, which plays an essential role in the health of this organ, is also repeatedly mentioned.
The intestine is home to an incredible number of these tiny creatures, the microbes. So let’s take a closer look at the intestine:
How long is the intestine? What sections is it divided into and what functions do each of them fulfil? How can I tell if the intestine is doing well? And how can I support it in its important tasks?
What is a healthy intestine and what positive effects do oatmeal have on the intestine? We will answer all these questions and more in the following article.
The most important facts about the intestine
Record holder: at six to eight metres, the intestine is the longest human organ, its surface is the size of a tennis court (about 400 m²) and is our largest contact surface with the outside world.
Over 100 trillion bacteria live in the intestine; each person’s intestinal flora is as individual as a fingerprint.
The intestine processes food and supplies the body with nutrients and water.
The intestine has more nerve cells than our spinal cord and is directly connected to the brain.
Our intestine is one of the main players of the immune system
Intestinal health and well-being are closely related
Time and again we hear about the great influence the gastrointestinal tract and its health seem to have on the rest of the body.
No wonder: the vital nutrients that keep our body running are largely absorbed by our intestines. If it is healthy, the whole organism is better supplied.
The intestine also plays a decisive role in metabolism, for our immune system and, of course, for our fluid balance.
Eighty percent of the body’s immune cells are located in the intestine. Ninety percent of our serotonin is produced here – our happiness hormone.
So you see: the intestine plays a greater role in our well-being than you might have thought up to now. That’s why it’s so important that we promote our gut health. An important part of this intestinal health is characterised by the intestinal flora.
The intestine is full of life. Over 100 trillion bacteria populate it – quite a lot. The composition of this bacterial colony is very individual for each person and also depends strongly on the diet.
It is important that the good bacteria – such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli – are always in a favourable ratio to the bad bacteria, such as clostridia.
If this ratio is not right, diseases are the result. Different intestinal diseases, in turn, can also promote other disease patterns. For example, inflammatory bowel diseases can play a role in the development of obesity.
To keep your intestines and your body healthy, the following applies: promote intestinal health, primarily through a varied and healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables.
Oats help you to build up and strengthen your intestinal flora. This is because oats are not only rich in many important nutrients, but are also full of fibre. You can optimally incorporate oats in the form of oat flakes into your healthy breakfast.
How can I tell if my gut is healthy?
The gut plays an important role in the health of the whole body. If your gut is healthy, chances are you’ll feel good otherwise.
If, on the other hand, something is wrong with your bowels, you can usually notice it quickly. Signs of this are flatulence, constipation or diarrhoea.
Even if these symptoms do not necessarily mean the worst, you should still pay close attention to your body’s signs and seek medical advice at the latest if they occur frequently. In many cases, adjusting your diet is the key to improving your wellbeing.
What bowel movements say about your gut health
When it comes to bowel health, this is not necessarily the most popular topic. Nevertheless, bowel movements can tell us a lot about the condition of the intestines.
For example, the shape and consistency can tell us whether we are getting enough fibre or fluid. Both are particularly important if you want to promote your intestinal health. But the colour of the bowel movements can also provide important clues.
Green stools may simply mean that green foods, such as spinach, have been consumed. If it is accompanied by diarrhoea, it can also indicate an infection with salmonella.
Yellow stools may indicate gluten intolerance. It can also be caused by problems with the digestion of fat.
Beware of black stools. This colour can come from the digestion of blood and indicate bleeding in the upper part of the digestive tract.
What is the microbiome?
The microbiome refers to the individual composition of the more than 100 trillion microbes that colonise our gut. This microbiome is unique to each person.
It begins to form at birth. The intestine of an unborn child is still completely germ-free. If it comes into contact with microbes for the first time at birth, colonisation of the intestine begins immediately.
Usually, the first bacteria the child comes into contact with are the vaginal and intestinal bacteria of the person giving birth. In the case of a caesarean section, it is usually skin bacteria.
The microbiome of our gut keeps it healthy – at least when it is in balance itself. This balance can be positively influenced by factors such as a healthylifestyle with a conscious and plant-based diet.
Gut health in children
A healthy gut is also important for children. As described, the microbiome of the gut is formed for the first time at birth. This first contact with bacteria can already have an influence on future health.
For example, children who are born by caesarean section seem to suffer more often from obesity, asthma, neurodermatitis or autoimmune diseases.
Although the gut microbiome forms so early, gut health should always be kept in mind, especially for younger children. This is because their organism and thus also the intestinal flora are still developing and can still react sensitively to changes, for example in terms of nutrition.
Depending on the situation, supporting children’s intestinal flora with probiotics can be useful. This can apply, for example, after the administration of antibiotics. However, such measures should always be taken with medical advice.
The basis of a healthy intestinal flora, however, is also a healthy and balanced, plant-based diet for children. A warm porridge breakfast, for example, can not only provide valuable nutrients, but also contribute to a fibre-rich diet and stimulate the metabolism.
Does breastfeeding strengthen the gut flora and immune system?
Breastfeeding babies actually strengthens their immune system and also the gut microbiome. This is because it enables the colonisation of diverse, good bacteria in the intestine.
And the more diverse the intestinal flora, the better it is for the immune system.
What are the tasks and functions of the intestine?
Our intestines perform many different tasks. A large part of the happiness hormone serotonin is produced here. It is also the centre of our immune system, so to speak. It is also no coincidence that we have a “gut feeling”.
Our intestines have around 100 million nerve cells, more than the spinal cord, and are also directly connected to the brain.
The task that most people associate with the intestines is the absorption of nutrients and fluids from our food. Different sections of the intestine also perform different tasks. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Small intestine – anatomy and function
The small intestine is the longest part of the intestine, about five metres long. It lies coiled in the abdominal cavity and is also called the intestinal mesentery.
Its task is to absorb nutrients from food. In order for this process to take place optimally, the small intestine has many folds and villi.
They increase the surface area that can absorb nutrients, vitamins, minerals and water and transport them into the blood. The small intestine is also divided in turn into the following sections:
The duodenum connects to the stomach. It is the first section of the small intestine and is about 25 to 30 centimetres long – about twelve fingers long.
Here, the digestion that began in the mouth and stomach continues. The duodenum produces numerous enzymes for this purpose.
Empty intestine (jejunum)
The duodenum is followed by the jejunum. Here, too, nutrients continue tobe absorbed: Proteins, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and salt, but also water.
By the way: the famous stomach growl does not actually come from the stomach, but is caused by air noises in this section of the intestine.
Crumbed intestine (ileum)
The last section of the small intestine. Water and bile acid are absorbed here. Most of the other components of food that can be used by the body have already been absorbed up to this point, which is why there are fewer folds and villi here.
The speciality of the colon is the defence against germs that may have been in the food.
Large intestine – anatomy and function
The large intestine is about one and a half, or 1.5 metres, long and practically frames the small intestine. As the name suggests, the large intestine has a larger cross-section than the small intestine.
Its main task is to thicken the food pulp. There are no villi in the large intestine; all digestible substances have already been absorbed.
Appendix with vermiform appendix
Most people are familiar with the appendix in connection with the notorious appendicitis. In fact, in such a case, it is not the appendix itselfthat is inflamed, but its appendix.
Incidentally, the appendix itself does not seem to be as useless an organ as is often believed. It contains many useful intestinal bacteria that can apparently act like a bacterial reservoir.
Grim intestine (colon)
The colon makes up the largest part of the large intestine. Here the food pulp is thickened and at the same time kept slippery by the production of mucus.
Rectum (rectum with anus).
The rectum is where all the indigestible components of food ultimately collect. Numerous nerves of the anal canal signal when the bowel needs to be emptied.
Thanks to the sphincter, this happens voluntarily. And how often is bowel movement normal? That is very individual. Whether it’s three times a day or every two days – only if there are strong and persistent changes in the individual rhythm should you become alert.
Proper nutrition for a strong intestinal flora
Tips for a healthy intestine are always welcome. A strong gut flora is characterised by a diverse gut microbiome.
Studies1 have shown that this microbiome is most likely to reach this state of diversity if the healthy diet is plant-based and balanced – that is, without too much fat, salt, sugar or highly processed products.
Sufficient intake of dietary fibre is also particularly crucial for a healthy gut. Here, many people often do not reach their requirements because, for example, whole grains or legumes are often given too little space in the diet.
What is good for the gut? Intestinal health
There are various measures you can take to promote your intestinal health.
It is always important to listen to the body’s signals and not to dismiss complaints such as diarrhoea, flatulence and constipation as normal, especially if they occur more frequently.
An important point in terms of intestinal health is definitely nutrition. However, this is also where we can have the most effective influence ourselves.
Probiotics and probiotic preparations to strengthen intestinal health?
Pro- and prebiotics and the corresponding preparations are intended to promote intestinal health and build up the intestinal flora when taken.
They do this by helping to establish beneficial bacteria in the gut. These include lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Probiotics can be used to relieve diarrhoea, for example.
When taking preparations, it makes sense to follow medical advice. Because as individual as the intestinal flora of each person is, the effect of probiotics is also different for each person and can be rather detrimental to intestinal health in the worst case.
Prebiotics are indigestible dietary fibres. They are not broken down by the digestive enzymes that our gut produces itself. Instead, they feed the beneficial bacteria of the gut.
These in turn can promote gut health. Prebiotics include inulin and oligofructose. Foods like asparagus, onions and legumes naturally contain prebiotics.
If you follow the rule of thumb “eat the rainbow”, you don’t need to worry about your adequate supply of polyphenols.
These secondary plant compounds are found in colourful vegetables andfruit. In the large intestine, these substances unfold their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
What endangers intestinal health?
Various factors can throw our intestinal flora out of sync and affect the health of our gut.
These include, for example, a poor diet, stress or certain medications such as antibiotics. Let’s look at a few points in more detail below.
Unhealthy diet – What foods are bad for the gut?
Some foods are bad for our gut health, but can easily be avoided. These include highly processed foods, but excessive consumption of sugar, salt and fat can also put a strain on the gut.
In general, eating animal products tends to be detrimental to gut health. The gut microbiome of people who eat a plant-based diet is much more diverse and gut health is often better accordingly.
This is why this type of diet, on which vegetarian or vegan lifestyles are also based, for example, is the more recommendable.
Why stress is a bad companion for your intestinal health
You have already learned in this article how closely the intestine isconnected to our brain and how many nerve cells it has.
That’s why stress – a factor we’d probably classify as mental health – has a lot to do with our gut health.
Stress can cause diarrhoea, flatulence or even constipation, as well as general malaise. Relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, but also sufficient sleep, help the intestines to regenerate.What is good for the intestines?
What diseases can originate from the intestine?
As important as our intestines are for the entire body, various diseases can also originate from them. Here is a brief overview of the most important ones:
– Appendicitis (colloquially appendicitis) – Intestinal tumour Polyposis Coli – Polyps Intestine Colorectal – Carcinoma (cancer of the large intestine) – Gastrointestinal virus (also gastrointestinal flu)
Our intestine is a fascinating organ that is involved in many important functions of our organism and that supplies you with the substances your body needs to live.
It accompanies our body in many physical and mental tasks. Supporting it in this process doesn’t have to be that difficult.
In this article, you learned that our diet plays a very important role in the health of our intestines. Dietary fibre in particular plays a central role here.
But since products such as white pasta, white bread or processed products are increasingly taking the place of whole grain products, and since meat and other animal products are often eaten instead of legumes, many people are now missing out on these fibres.
Yet it can be quite simple and delicious to consume these dietary fibres in sufficient quantities.
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