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PROEUHEALTH - The Food, GI-tract Functionality and Human Health Cluster

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Consumer Platform > What is the intestinal microbiota and how does it affect my health?
Consider this. In terms of the number of cells in your body, you are more bacteria than human! Yes, we all carry around with us about 100 million million live bacteria in our intestinal tract. Amazing and perhaps a scary thought at first, but these bacteria actually do us a lot more good than harm. We call these bacteria collectively the normal intestinal microbiota. They provide a barrier making it more difficult to other harmful bacteria that we might inadvertently eat from establishing a home in our intestinal tract and causing disease. They help us to gain the maximum value from the food we eat, supplying us with energy and additional nutrients. They are also believed to play an important role in the development of our immune system.

However, members of the intestinal microbiota can also be involved in disease. For instance, a side-effect of antibiotic therapy can be the loss of a proportion of our normal microbiota, providing an opportunity for intestinal bacteria, who's numbers are usually kept in balance, to rapidly multiply and cause diarrhoea and more serious illness. This type of imbalance in the intestinal microbiota can result from a range of environmental and physiological influences including changes in diet, stress, ageing and disease. Additionally, the intestinal microbiota is thought to play a role in some chronic intestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Understanding the relationships between food, the intestinal microbiota, and our well being will enable scientists to develop foods and therapies, which can improve and maintain our health. These include probiotics and even new ways to deliver vaccines using intestinal bacteria. The development of these technologies in the Food, GI-tract Functionality and Human Health Cluster is helping to improve the health of European consumers.


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