The world of Tzu Chi May 2021 (Vol.134)

TZU CHI 134 51 Ng Hui Ling A nutritionist with a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and a Master’s degree in Sports Science. She had served with the Singapore Heart Foundation before becoming a self-employed dietary consultant to vegetarians and a contributor for a health magazine. of microbes attached to our inner and outer body is a sum beyond our imagination—100 trillion cells! I could not help thinking, with the microbes versus body cells ratio at ten to one, which is the actual ‘master’ of the body? Professor Rob Knight also said that the microorganisms vary in different parts of the human body. For instance, the huge difference between oral cavity and intestinal microbes is much greater than the difference between reef and grassland microorganisms. The very lively and interesting talk aside, Professor Rob Knight later wrote a book in his dynamic presentation style with Brendan Buhler titled, “Follow Your Gut”. I benefitted a lot from his talk and book. Now, how do the microbes get into the body and coexist with us? Our gut flora is inherited from our mother. Newborns delivered naturally are exposed to the mother’s microbiota when they pass through the vaginal canal. Children born naturally carry different microbes from those delivered by Caesarean section (C-section). Skin microflora can be found in the guts of C-section babies, whereas vaginal microflora, dominated by lactobacillus species, is commonly found in the guts of babies born naturally. Subsequently, the newborns are exposed to the unique microbes contained in breast milk, which contributes to the bacterial colonization* of the newborns’ intestine. Intestinal microbiota is beneficial to humans, some familiar examples are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. The human body provides them a living environment, and in return, they maintain human health. These beneficial intestinal microbiota help to maintain homeostasis in our body; as commonly perceived, they grow and dominate the territories of harmful bacteria. When the equilibrium is disturbed, it increases the risk of infection. In addition, intestinal microbes produce certain vitamins, such as, vitamin K. Gut flora also helps to metabolize certain complex carbohydrates, like starch and dietary fibres, which can be hard to digest. The composition of gut microbiota varies overtime, transforming due to factors such as age, environment, diet, antibiotic consumption, stress, exercise habits and sleep, bringing either positive or negative impacts on our health. In the next article, I am going to share more stories told to my daughter regarding co-existing with microorganisms. In the meantime, let us feed our children with vegetables and fruits daily! * Various microorganisms (bacteria) attach to the human body from different sources. They localize in certain areas, continue to grow and reproduce. This phenomenon is usually called “bacterial colonization”. The colonized microorganisms rely on the human body to continuously supply nutrients for them to grow and reproduce, before they could have an effect on the human body.