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Richard Béliveau’s chronicle: The crucial role of intestinal flora

Thursday October 24, 2013

Richard Béliveau’s chronicle: The crucial role of intestinal flora Richard Béliveau’s chronicle: The crucial role of intestinal flora

Our intestines contain bacterial flora that is extremely populated and diverse. The large intestine (colon), for example, can contain up to a thousand billion (1,000,000,000,000) bacteria per millilitre, which makes it the most densely populated microbial habitat on the planet. This bacterial present is so significant that is it believed that an adult body is made from 90% of bacterial cells, which means that the body contains ten times more bacteria than human cells. These bacteria alone make up approximately 2 kg of a person’s body weight.  

The composition of the intestinal flora varies greatly from one person to another and will usually remain stable throughout adult age. This stability is important, as these bacteria develop and maintain our immunity system, in addition to their role in the fermentation of dietary fibres. Studies have shown that certain variations in the type of bacteria found in intestinal flora can affect the body’s immunity functions, thus contributing to the development of inflammatory issues such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. As such, maintaining a good stability of one’s intestinal flora is an essential factor for good health.  


A relatively unknown aspect of aging is its effect on the intestinal flora. In the elderly (65 years and over), intestinal flora varies significantly from one person to another – its composition in whole also differs greatly than the flora of younger adults. The degradation of dentition, digestive functions that are more difficult, as well as variations in bowel function are all factors in the degradation of the intestinal flora, in addition to changes in the dietary habits that often appear as age progresses.  

A recent study has shown that the intestinal flora composition in the elderly is significantly affected by their living environment – for example, seniors living in long-term care facilities had a less diversified flora compared to seniors living in their own family home. Furthermore, researchers have reported that these differences in intestinal flora composition were closely related to the person’s diet and health condition, including their frailty (difficulties in daily activities) and the presence of specific inflammation markers. Globally speaking, an in-depth analysis of study results indicates a significant relationship between a person’s diet, the composition of his/her intestinal flora as well as overall health condition; the loss of flora diversity contributes to the degradation of the overall health condition associated with aging.


As a person ages, it is normal that the diet will be modified to be better adapted to the various physical changes related to aging. This study shows, however, that the potential impact on the person’s intestinal flora must be taken in consideration. It is crucial that seniors consume foods that promote good intestinal flora, such as foods rich in pro-biotics. No matter how old we are, a healthy, balanced diet must always remain a priority to ensure our good health! 

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