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Maintaining your intestinal microbiota

Our intestinal microbiota is built up mainly during the first years of life. It then remains relatively stable during adult life and is closely linked to the way we live. 

Different signs that suggest it may be damaged or disturbed

Common signs are problems with digestion (abdominal pain, discomfort, bloating, irregular bowel habits, etc.) or infections (ENT, broncho-pulmonary, urinary or vaginal, etc.) directly linked to the microbiota’s digestive/metabolic/immune functions. But as the intestinal microbiota acts on our well-being and state of health at several levels, there are also many other signs including allergies, anxiety, mood swings, problems sleeping and migraines.

Inflammation and dysbiosis

We know now how to measure the degree of digestive inflammation by administering certain markers, and this is done in pathologies such as irritable bowel syndrome or CIBD (chronic inflammatory bowel disease).

We are also starting to measure the degree of dysbiosis, either by administering compounds produced by the bacteria, such as short-chain fatty acids, which seem to have a positive effect on health, or by assessing the type of bacteria predominant in the microbiota: some play a beneficial role, whereas others are “pro-inflammatory”.

All the research and discoveries in recent years relating to the intestinal microbiota offer new perspectives for prevention and treatment: changing or rebalancing your microbiota is now a big health issue. We can change our microbiota. And if dysbiosis occurs, we can also take steps to help our microbiota get back in balance!

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The principal factor that plays a vital role in this balance is the diet. Although a Mediterranean diet has long been recognized as beneficial for our health, it has only recently been shown that it does in fact encourage the formation of beneficial bacterial flora, especially because it is rich in fibre (fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes) and in prebiotic1 nutrients. 

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But that is not all. Although we cannot remove all the factors that could potentially damage our microbiota, for instance some medications necessary to our health, we can try actively to control some of them, including chronic or badly-managed stress, lack of sleep, pollutants, tobacco, alcohol and drugs etc.
Taking a different tack, studies show that physical activity can improve the intestinal microbiota. 

Lastly, we can maintain or restore the balance of our intestinal flora by taking probiotics2. Although more research is needed in this area, an increasing number of studies show that taking probiotics or prebiotics can have a positive effect on some pathologies such as irritable bowel syndrome, and in improving immune defences, in preventing or treating diarrhoea (particularly in infants or linked to antibiotic use), and in preventing cystitis and vaginal thrush etc.

Sources :

  1. Prebiotics : non-digestible compounds that when metabolized by intestinal bacteria, change the bacteria’s composition and/or activity to one that is of physiological benefit to the organism.
  2. Probiotics : living micro-organisms that, if eaten in the right quantity, are good for the health.