How Does Bacteria in the Gut Affect Your Health

By on March 7, 2016

By Dr. Sushma Hirani

One of the least talked about yet most important things in the human body is the bacteria that live in your gut. This is often referred to as the gut microbiome. Your digestive tract has trillions of bacteria that must work together to help break down food, improve your immunity and more. Additionally, research shows that the microflora in the body impacts a variety of systems throughout the body.

Your digestive tract contains both beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria. The beneficial bacteria in the gut help with digestion and seek to destroy the bad bacteria in the body. The bad bacteria in the gut come from environmental toxins, bacteria in the soil and bacteria in the foods you eat.

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When the harmful bacteria outnumber the beneficial bacteria, systems throughout your body can function poorly. A variety of medications like antibiotics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications and birth control pills, toxins, stress, infections and a poor diet, can all contribute to a bacterial imbalance in the gut. 

The bacteria in your body can impact all aspects of your health, including –

  • Inflammation
  • Mood changes
  • Immunity
  • Neurological disorders
  • Insulin sensitivity

It is important that you make lifestyle choices that reverse this imbalance of the microbes in the digestive tract.

You can help improve the number of healthy bacteria in the gut by maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of sleep and consuming fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kefir. Fermented foods are filled with beneficial bacteria to help increase beneficial bacteria in the body. Let’s take a look at some of the body systems and symptoms that can occur when the delicate balance of the digestive tract becomes imbalanced and harmful bacteria are increased.


Believe it or not, researchers are now beginning to understand that gut feelings are actually caused by a “second brain” in the gut. This is referred to as the enteric nervous system. This system is found in the lining of the gastrointestinal tract and contains more than 100 million nerve cells. When irritation occurs in the gastrointestinal tract, signals in the enteric nervous system may send signals that may trigger changes in the mood. Learn what John Hopkins has to say.

Neurological disorders

UCLA researchers have found that the bacteria in the gut can affect brain functions. Participants in the study consumed beneficial bacteria throughout the study to determine if their brain functions were changed. The participants were divided into three separate groups. One group received yogurt that contains probiotics, another group received a yogurt-like substance containing no probiotics and the third group received no product at all. MRIs were taken prior to the study and at the conclusion of the study. The MRIs showed that changes occurred in the brain. The study concluded that gut flora can cause long-term consequences on the brain’s development and may result in a number of neurological disorders and brain disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, autisms, Parkinson’s disease.

Autoimmune Disorders

Research has shown that digestive abnormalities may lead to numerous autoimmune disorders, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. Researchers at the University of Maryland’s Center for Celiac Research suggest that autoimmune has three common factors- antigen exposure, genetic susceptibility and intestinal permeability. Emerging research on how bacteria in the gut can cause autoimmune disorders and how improving gut health may help improve or reverse autoimmune conditions is ongoing.

Metabolism and Nutritional Imbalances

The beneficial bacteria in the gut help break down food into usable nutrients. When the bacteria are unable to break down nutrients, nutritional imbalances can occur. When the body is not receiving the necessary nutrients, it can slow down metabolism that can lead to obesity and low energy.

Researchers are only beginning to understand how the gut flora affects health and prevents disease. The microflora in the gut helps break down food into nutrients, improves immunity, regulates metabolism and helps protect against disease. Additionally, when the microflora in the gut becomes unbalanced, it can cause a plethora of problems including depression, inflammatory bowel disease, brain disorders, and autoimmune disorders.


Dr. Hirani is a practicing physician specializing in functional medicine. She is the medical director of the Rose Wellness Center in Virginia. Dr Hirani has treated thousands of patients over the past 10 years for various chronic diseases. She believes in finding the root causes of illnesses using a functional medicine approach.

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How Does Bacteria in the Gut Affect Your Health