POST TIME: 5 October, 2021 05:51:57 PM
A pet called ‘microbe’ and three Ps
Microbes grow with the child and change with the child ages. The differences in everyone’s gut microbiota helps explain why people response differently
Sharmin Sultana

A pet called ‘microbe’ and three Ps

Don’t microorganisms like virus and bacteria cause different diseases? They are harmful for us, correct? What if I tell you that in our body there exist trillions of beneficial microorganisms? Not only do they help us digest food, but they also play important roles in boosting mental and physical health. Microbes can be found in our skin, nose, mouth and gut. They live with us. We should take care of them, like we would a pet, and feed them properly for our own benefits as well as theirs. They protect us from pathogens, which make us ill. These microbes are together called human microbiota.

Every human being’s microbiota is unique. Microbiota is like a fingerprint which can be used for identification methods. A child first gets microbes from its mother during birth. As humans mature, they get microbes from the surrounding environment, food, and the people they interact with. The types of microbes available in our body depend on different things. Events such as premature birth, cesarean section, a normal delivery of birth affect the microbiota. Moreover, a breastfed child has different types of microbes from that of a child who had little or no breast milk. The initial differences in microbita related to someone’s mode of birth usually do not show any indication in their early life but are significant in later life. Differences in early life microbiota can be linked to later life diseases such as allergies and obesity.

Interestingly, mother’s milk has nutrients for both a child and its microbiota. The oligosaccharide found in mother’s milk is considered as a food (prebiotic) for microbiota. A child can’t consume this, so it becomes the food for microbes inside the body. Microbes grow with the child and change with the child ages. The differences in everyone’s gut microbiota helps explain why people response differently to the same food.

Complementary food is as important to microbes as it is for a child. Shifting to complementary food from milk increases the diversity of microbes in a child’s body.

Important facts about microbiota:

  • Microbiota is important for the development of our immune system. When a child’s immune system meets different microbes, it gets to know which one is harmful and which one is harmless. If a child grows up in a germ-free environment or faces too many antibiotics, the system can’t mature. As a result, it can’t differentiate nonpathogenic substances. This may create problems, including food allergies or auto-immune diseases.


  • A healthy gut not only keeps the digestive system working properly, it also promotes stable mood, happiness and a stronger memory. Our brain and gut have two-way interactions – the brain affects the gut and the gut affects the brain. Interactions happen through some neurotransmitters, most of which exist in the gut. If there are too many pathogens in our gut, then bowel-related disorders such irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can occur.
  • Intestine microbiota produces different vitamins, including vitamin B12, Thiamine and Riboflavin, and K which are necessary for good health.

So how can we keep our microbiota and our body healthy? To understand this question we have to know about the three Ps.

Pre-biotic: Prebiotics are dietary fibers that stimulate microbes’ growth and activities in our body. Prebiotics are found in fiber rich food like asparagus, onion, oatmeal, walnut, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks, pulses, and bananas. We should include prebiotic food in our everyday diet to get the beneficial effects of gut microbes.

Pro-biotic: Probiotics are live microbes which are available in different foods and as supplements. Different studies point out to the benefits of consuming probiotic supplements and demonstrate encouraging results for specific conditions; however, research is not clear about the benefits on the population level. Moreover, each person’s microbiota is unique. One type of probiotic may behave differently in another person. Different people may need different types of probiotics or different doses of the same probiotic. In this situation, it is a good idea to get probiotics from food. Sourdough bread, fermented vegetables like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and dairy products like yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses are good sources of probiotics. Probiotics help balance our "good" and "bad" bacteria to keep the body working properly. When we lose "good" bacteria in our body, like after taking antibiotics, probiotics can help us replace them.

Post-biotic: Post-biotics are a byproduct of the fermentation process that occurs when prebiotics feed probiotics in our gut. Post-biotic include organic acids, enzymes and carbon substrates which are believed to help regulate the composition of the microbes. The sources of post-biotic are same as probiotics. There are research evidences that most of the positive effects we get from probiotics are actually due to post-biotic.

In short, prebiotics provide food for probiotics, and probiotics produce post-biotic that affects a range of physiological processes. Ensuring these three P’s in our diet we can keep our microbiota healthy as well as our body.

Gut microbiota in different health conditions

Changes in gut microbes have been found in different disease conditions in our body. Examples include:

Alzheimer’s disease: It was found in a study that people with Alzheimer’s had different microbes in their gut than healthy people. It is believed that gut bacteria foster the development of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Parkinson’s disease: Scientists have discovered links between gut bacteria and Parkinson’s disease. Changes in the composition of the gut bacteria may contribute here.

Depression: According to a study on more 2100 adults, it was found that depressed people had lower level of specific bacteria.

Autoimmune disorder: There is evidence that people with auto-immune disorders have higher than normal level of the BacteroidesFragilis bacteria in their gut.

Obesity: In obese people specific bacterial changes were found which influence hunger hormones and lead to obesity.

Diabetes: It was found that patients with Type 2 Diabetes have differences in their microbes compared to people without the disease.

Heart disease: Some microbes affect the blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. They also damage the arteries and blood vessels by producing harmful substances.

In later life, hormone regulation, physical activities, smell and taste change. This affects our microbes and can create different complications.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • Feed your microbes properly by including their foods in your diet.
  • Let children help in the garden and play with pets to promote diverse microbes.
  • Get enough sleep at night. Losing just two days of sleep can destroy beneficial microbes. Sleep loss is as bad as poor diet and inadequate rest. 
  • Avoid unnecessary antibiotics. By using excessive antibiotics, we kill many good microbes.
  • Don’t sanitize everything.
  • Timing of the meal is important as well as relaxing during eating instead of rushing. Eating at late night, when you are less active, can promote the growth of unhealthy gut bacteria.
  • Stress is an enemy of gut health.
  • Exercise is necessary.

There is still much to explore about the potential of our microbes. Based on the available knowledge we can say that if we take care of our microbes, then we could lower the chances of different challenging diseases. At present, microbes are used in curing certain diseases through fecal microbes transplant therapies. Moreover, feces banks are developed for the treatment of patients with multiple infections. More emphasis should be given on personalized nutrition that takes into account differences in human character, habits, and social environments besides physiological differences or diseases.


The writer is a public health professional. E-mail: [email protected]