Some 80 percent of our immune system is in the gut – says paediatric neurologist Maya Shetreat-Klein in her book “The Dirt Cure”. Heal the gut, heal the brain, heal the body: The book emphasises what healthy bacteria are able to achieve. A healthy gut will have a positive impact on the entire body. Good health begins not only in the mouth; scientists in a wide range of disciplines – from paediatricians and gastroenterologists to microbiologists – have in many studies examined the precise impact of the gut flora on our health and wellbeing, and what an ideal gut flora would look like.
The gut flora does most of its development within the first three years of our lives. During this time, excessive hygiene should be avoided even with babies and toddlers to develop a versatile gut flora. This will include somewhat risky bacteria, but most importantly healthy bacteria. The immune system learns from both. Finding the right balance between the two has to be our goal.
This equilibrium may be damaged by, e.g., an unbalanced diet, lack of fibre, food preservatives, or too much medication including premature or excessive treatment with antibiotics.
In an interview with German television NDR, Prof. Britta Siegmund of the Charité in Berlin gave a good illustration when asked what, e.g., antibiotics did to the gut flora: We were to imagine the gut like a shared flat. “If the flatmate responsible for the kitchen should drop out, chaos will result.” In the gut and, as a consequence, in the body.