The microbiota is the ecosystem of microscopic microorganism that live in the gut. It is essential for good health and staying healthy.
The microbiota provides protection, immune stimulation and nutrition.
The microbiota is the body’s first line of defence against invading bacteria. The physical presence of the beneficial bacterial lining the intestinal walls creates a protective barrier preventing disease-causing bacteria from attaching. The intestinal microbiota also releases anti-bacterial substances, which help to prevent uncontrolled growth of problematic species of bacteria.
The microbiota helps to stimulate and develop the immune system, helping the body to defend itself against pathogens and at the same time ensuring that it does not overreact, in a way that may cause chronic or damaging inflammation.
The microbiota is able to produce essential compounds such as certain B vitamins and vitamin K.
What causes an unbalanced microbiota?
The microbiota comprises a unique balance of different bacterial species, and each person has their own distinctive microbiota.8 If the balance of the different micro-organisms living in the gut is disturbed, this can lead to a condition called dysbiosis, which may result in diarrhoea and this may be chronic.
A well-established cause of intestinal microbiota dysbiosis is the taking of antibiotics. This causes indiscriminate killing of bacteria in the microbiota and provides an opportunity for undesirable species to proliferate and some, such as Clostridium difficile may cause very serious disease.
Other factors which are able to upset the natural balance of the microbiota include: dietary changes, excessive alcohol or tobacco consumption, stress, disease and infections.1,4 Short-lived bacterial and viral infections of the intestine, which cause acute gastroenteritis, are also common causes of diarrhoea, particularly in developing countries.
Repeat or sustained gastrointestinal infections can bring about a change in the composition of the intestinal microbiota, damaging the protective microbial barrier, and this in turn leads to a worsening spiral of diarrhoea, which may become chronic.
Diarrhoea & IBS
What causes diarrhoea?
Diarrhoea can be caused by many different factors including:
- Infections of the intestine by bacteria or viruses
- Taking certain medications, for example antibiotics
- An intolerance to particular foods
- Particular digestive diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and some other diseases
- Stress or poor diet
One mechanism by which antibiotics cause diarrhoea is by upsetting the balance of bacteria in the microbiota, with a resultant decrease in bacterial fermentation and an increase in undigested carbohydrates in the faeces.5 Treatment includes methods of re-establishing the balance to the microbiota, which can include postbiotics such as Lactéol®.6 Postbotics have a demonstrated efficacy in the treatment of antibotic-associated diarrhoea,6,7 and because they have been inactivated, can be safely co-administrated with antibiotics, without impact on its efficacy.
What are the consequences of an unbalanced microbiota?
An unbalanced microbiota is often a cause of diarrhoea. Diarrhoea is the passage of 3 or more loose or liquid stools per day, or more frequently than is normal.
An episode of diarrhoea caused by bacterial or viral infection may lead to chronic diseases, such as irritable bowel disease (IBS). IBS is a common disorder that causes abdominal discomfort, bloating and diarrhoea. ln most cases, the root cause of the IBS is unknown; however, in 5% to 32% of cases, IBS follows a bout of acute gastroenteritis.
If the microbiota remains unbalanced for a longer period, it can cause excessive inflammation of the intestine, which is a characteristic of gastrointestinal autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Balance can be restored to the microbiota by improving the diet, getting plenty of liquids and by taking probiotics or postbiotics. Certain probiotics and postbiotics have the dual effect of stimulating the healthy regrowth of the microbiota and substituting for it, this provides the protection and immune-stimulation that is lacking when the microbiota has been disturbed.