The power of trillions: The gut microbiome for digestion and absorption

The power of trillions: The gut microbiome for digestion and absorption

Caitlin Hall
by Dr Caitlin Hall (APD, PhD)
Head of Clinical Research

Did you know that your gut is home to trillions of tiny living creatures called gut bacteria? It's like a bustling metropolis in there, with all sorts of critters living and working together to keep your body healthy. These microbes play a crucial role in various bodily functions, including digestion, immunity, and metabolism. In this post, we'll explore the importance of gut bacteria for digestion and nutrient absorption, including the role of SCFAs.

What are gut bacteria?

Gut bacteria are a type of microorganism that lives throughout the digestive tract: from your mouth to your colon. There are many different types of gut bacteria, with each species having a unique role in the microbiome. These bacteria play a crucial role in breaking down and digesting food, producing vitamins and other essential nutrients, and regulating the immune system.

How do gut bacteria help with digestion?

Gut bacteria play a vital role in the digestive process by breaking down complex carbohydrates that are otherwise difficult for the body to digest. These bacteria produce enzymes that break down these molecules into smaller, more manageable pieces, making them easier for the body to absorb.

A great example of this is dietary fibre. Unlike protein and fats, humans don’t have the enzymes required to break down fibre from foods. Long ago, we outsourced this role to our gut bacteria, who thrive off the stuff. And when they break-down (called fermenting) fibre, they produce an important substance called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are essential for maintaining the health of the intestinal lining and help reduce inflammation in the gut.

How do SCFAs enhance absorption?

SCFAs have been shown to play an essential role in enhancing nutrient absorption. They are the exclusive energy source for the cells lining the intestine. This allows them to more efficiently  absorb more water and electrolytes, which helps regulate bowel movements and prevent diarrhoea or constipation. Healthy colonocytes (colon cells) also increase the absorption of important minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and iron.

How do gut bacteria help with nutrient absorption?

Alongside SCFAs, the gut bacteria themselves play a crucial role in nutrient absorption. Specific bacterias produce enzymes that help break down complex nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, into more accessible forms that the body can absorb.

For example, our gut bacteria can produce vitamin K2, which is essential for blood clotting and bone health. They also produce vitamin B12, which is vital for the nervous system and energy production. B12 can only be found in animal products so is often a nutrient that vegans struggle to consume in their diet. 

What happens when there's a disruption to your gut bacteria?

Disruptions to the gut microbiome can occur due to antibiotics, low fibre diet, stress, and illness. A gut microbiome with lower microbial diversity may have a limited capacity to produce SCFAs, vitamins, and minerals. A reduction in butyrate (an important SCFA) may also affect the gut lining, which long-term is associated with increased intestinal permeability.

How to enhance your gut’s ability to digest and absorb?

The gut microbiome plays a crucial role in digestion and nutrient absorption. They help break down complex nutrients into more accessible forms, produce essential SCFAs, vitamins and nutrients, and help regulate bowel function. 

So what can you do to keep your gut microbiome happy and healthy? It's simple. Eat a balanced diet that's rich in prebiotic fibre. An easy way to get your recommended intake of fibre is through myota’s diverse prebiotic fibre blends. Our Immunity Booster is specifically formulated to maximise SCFA production, to reduce inflammation and keep the gut lining healthy.