As promised, I have a few links to additional information on the gut microbiota. By "gut" I mean your intestines, and I use both words because you see both words used in reports on research in that area. By "microbiota," I mostly mean the beneficial bacteria that live in your intestines, but there are also some beneficial fungi that are also part of that internal ecosystem.
Your gut actually refers to your entire digestive tract, but most of the interest is in what goes on with the microbiota in your large intestine, aka the colon. Most of our digestion goes on in the stomach and the small intestine (that's where the various digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates, fats and proteins are secreted). It was thought for a long time that the large intestine didn't really contribute much, other than allowing further absorption of some nutrients while moving food waste along to be excreted as feces.
We now know that what happens in the large intestine is quite important to not just the health of the colon itself, but to our overall health. And the activity in your large intestine depends on your personal microbiota, which as I said in my Seattle Times column on Sunday, is like a bacterial fingerprint...it's as individual as you are.
So we know the microbiota is important. The extent of that importance is still being sorted out. As always seems to be the case, there is more research to be done. The more we know, the more we know we don't know, and all that. So about those links...
First and foremost, if you are really interested in this topic, I highly recommend that you link right away to Science Journals' special edition on "The Gut Microbiota" and register for free so you can access all the articles. There's 18 articles, I believe. Some are quite short, some are longer. Some are easy-to-read and understandable even if you don't consider yourself a "science person." Some are more complicated and require some knowledge of biology and biochemistry to fully understand them. That said, I think there's something there for everyone. Hurry, because the articles are only free to the public until August 15.
Here are a few more links on gut microbes:
- From NPR's The Salt: "What Our Gut Microbes Say About Us"
- From Science Daily: "Complex World of Gut Microbes Fine-Tune Body Weight"
- From HealthDay: "Gut Microbes Might Reflect Health, Diet of Older Adults"
And still a few more on probiotics:
- Some information on "The Health Benefits of Taking Probiotics" from Harvard
- "Probiotics 101" from NPR's The Salt
- "Oral Probiotics: An Introduction" from the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
I plan to write something else later this week on this general subject (I'm still in heavy "thinking about it" mode). Until then, enjoy these links!