Functions of the gut microbiota

Consisting of about 1014 bacteria in adults, the gut microbiota represents a complex ecological ­entity that possesses a high metabolic activity. It thus ­numerically surpasses the body's own approx. 1013 cells by a factor of 10. By its weight and metabolic capacity, it is comparable with the liver. The intestinal microflora supports the human organism with metabolic, trophic and protective functions. 6; 7 It controls the cell proliferation and differentiation of the intestinal epithelium and promotes the development and homoeostasis of the immune system. The gut microbiota protects against infections caused by pathogenic microbes and also plays an important role in sustaining immunological tolerance as long as we live.
The short-chain carboxylic acids synthetized by the gut microbiota (primarily acetic, propionic and butyric acid) serve in nourishing epithelial cells of the colon. 

Pathophysiological role of the gut bacteria

The significance of the normal gut microbiota will become particularly obvious once the microecological balance is disturbed. Apart from the obligatory gastro­intestinal pathogens, some “regular” intestinal bacteria might also assume pathogenetic relevance: 

  • in the development of a post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome
  • by inducing and sustaining chronic inflammatory bowel diseases and associated extraintestinal manifestations
  • to the devolpment of the metabolic syndrome 
  • in the development of the antibiotic-associated diarrhea and pseudomembranous colitis 
  • in the bacterial overgrowth syndrome of the small bowell
  • in case of a disturbance of the intestinal barrier function (“leaky gut”)

Associations between gut microbiota and extraintestinal diseases such as urinary tract infections, allergies, food intolerances and joint disease are also being discussed. 8; 6



6) Schulze J et al. Probiotika – Mikroökologie, Mikrobiologie, Qualität, Sicherheit und gesundheitliche Effekte. Hippokrates, Stuttgart, ISBN 978-3-8304-5356-7, 2008.

8) Rasche C et al. Differential immunomodulating effects of inactivated ­probiotic bacteria on the allergic immune response. Acta Derm Venereol 2007; 87: 305–311. 

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