Intestinal flora refers to the microorganisms, notably bacteria, that normally hang out in your intestinal tract. Your entire gastrointestinal tract, including your mouth, is teaming with bacteria.
The presence of certain bacteria in your small and large intestine is healthy. But the assortment of bacterial types and amount for health promotion is highly unique for each individual.
Generally, the small intestine contains a relatively low number of bacteria compared to that in the large one. Also, the types of bacteria differ as well.
Intestinal flora bacteria supports your health via:
- disease protection
- vitamin K production
- assists in nutrient breakdown
- encourages intestinal lining growth
- stimulates intestinal immune system
And recent research has found that a molecule produced by bacteria in your intestinal flora can eliminate inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.
When your small intestine bacteria increases in the type of bacteria that typically dwells in your large intestine, the resulting health condition is called small intestine bacteria overgrowth. If your small intestine is overwhelmed by bacteria overgrowth, then you may experience symptoms of:
- weight loss
- abdominal pain
- stomach cramps
- steatorrhea ~ fatty, floating stool
- dyspepsia ~ upset stomach, indigestion
These symptoms are very similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome and various types of infectious bacteria that cause gastroenteritis, like:
The overabundance of bacteria flora in your small intestine can drain available nutrients before your body has an opportunity to absorb what’s needed to keep you healthy. Thus, overgrown flora bacteria can lead to:
- liver disease
- iron deficiency anemia
- cachexia due to malnutrition
- hypocalcemia caused tetany
- vitamin B12 deficiency anemia
- vitamin A deficiency night blindness
- selenium deficiency caused dermatitis
- excessive bleeding caused by vitamin deficiencies
One basic cause for bacterial overgrowth in your small intestine is interference with its sweeping of bacteria down into your large intestines. The automatic process that moves food, as well as bacteria, through the digestive system is called peristalsis.
Decreased peristalsis may result in bacteria staying longer and proliferating or allowing bacteria to move back up from the large intestinal area. Health conditions that can hamper this mode of removal include:
- small intestine diverticulosis
- scleroderma ~ damages intestinal muscles
- small intestine obstruction ~ Crohn’s disease, surgical scarring
- any neurologic & muscular disease that alter your normal intestinal muscle activity
- diabetes caused nerve damage controlling intestinal muscles ~ diabetic autonomic neuropathy
Overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine can be caused by an immunodeficiency too.
Treatment for excess intestinal bacteria growth entails antibiotics and drugs that speed intestinal movement. Severe cases of small intestine bacteria overgrowth may require fluid and nutrition replacement via parenteral nutrition.
If you suspect your intestinal flora is getting out of whack, increase your consumption of yogurt and plant food.