I hope you are seeing a theme to our health goals. Everything ties back to what we put in our mouths and how we digest and assimilate it. Our friendly bacteria is our greatest ally to this endeavor. Actually, did you know that there are 10 times more bacteria cells in your body than all other human cells? Or think of it this way, we are 10% human and 90% bacteria. We are made up mostly of bacteria! Yet, bacteria is the thing we are taught to fear, and that we should prevent coming into contact with. This task, by the way woould be imposible.
Yes, it is true that there are bacteria we want to avoid or limit our exposure to But, there are a lot of bacteria that are on our side. We need bacteria to help us digest, make vitamins and assimilate our food. We need good bacteria supplies to help ward off the bad guys and to keep our immunity strong. Bacteria helps maintain the PH balance of the intestine and reproductive organs. As important as having these beneficial bacteria living in and on our bodies we need to have a proper balance of them. For even the good guys, when grown out of balance with the others, will become problematic. As in the case with SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth), good strains of bacteria proliferate the small intestine, where they are normally in small numbers. Instead of helping us digest and assimilate our food they rob us of essential vitamins and minerals, they get them before we get a chance to. So when our good bacteria are out of balance they can rob us of our nutrients, wreak havoc on our GI lining, and cause inflammation. Balance is the key.
Instead of the focus being on avoiding and killing bacteria, how about we learn to live in balance with this bacterial life.
This bacterial balance in our bodies starts with our mother imparting to us with the colostrum in her milk. Throughout life we eat food which not only feeds us but feeds our bacterial colonies. If we are lucky enough to go through life not needing any antibiotics many of these good bugs will be with us for our lifetime. If we get out of balance we can replenish many of these bacterial colonies with fermented foods or supplementation. Ancient cultures knew the importance of fermented foods and nearly every culture used some form of fermented food in their diets. We will talk more about fermented foods later.
Just in the last decade we are beginning to wake up and bring more understanding to the positive impact that bacteria can have on our health. Antibiotics have saved lives and they have also led to many chronic illness. The latest research is uncovering evidence of something known as Biofilms. Biofilms are a slimy matrix of bacteria banded together to protect themselves from being killed. Biofilms have proved impervious to antibiotics. When you take an antibiotic, some of the bacteria are killed. Some of the bacteria survive and hide out in these biofilms, later to emerge. Biofilms and their complications are involved in such cases as Lyme's disease, MERSA, SIBO, many chronic digestive diseases, and many other health issues. How many people know someone with a child that gets chronic ear infections and is always on antibiotics? Biofilms are one part to that reoccurring story.
If you are currently taking antibiotics or you have a digestive issue you may need to supplement with probiotics for awhile. If those situations are not present for you I don’t recommend supplements as the way to support your bacterial balance. Rather I recommend adding small amounts of fermented foods to the diet. Unless you consume these in large quantities you will minimize overgrowth.
There are certain foods that bacteria love (Inulin, FOS, among others). These are called prebiotics. They not only feed probiotic bacteria but also opportunistic bacteria. They are found in many over the counter probiotic supplements. Unless you are taking antibiotics I don’t recommend using these products long term, as you could run the risk of having an overgrowth. People with SIBO and other digestive issues will be well advised to stay away from prebiotics.
Soil based organisms are the hot topic these days. Have you ever pulled out a carrot from the earth and dusted it off and ate it? How about eating beans have fresh off the bush, or strawberries right from the plant. Unless you scrubbed those veggies, chances are you also took within your system some soil based organisms. The evidence is still not known how beneficial these organisms really are or whether or not we are meant to populate these organisms in our gut. For now, I would not supplement them and stick to the occasional dirt that might naturally find its way into your mouth.
Your body can replenish its own healthy bacterial flora if you are in good health. The focus should be on optimizing your health, fostering a diet that supports beneficial bacteria verses opportunistic bacteria and using probiotics in times of antibiotic use or to help improve digestive health, generally no longer than a month. If your health issue is not getting better after a month, seek out medical assistance and get further diagnostic work done.
An imbalance of good guys verse bad guys has been found to be a link to obesity. Research is finding those with an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria tend to produce food cravings, potentially driving you towards wrong foods. Just when we think that keeping a healthy weight depended on your percentage of carbs, protein and fats. Evidence now points in the direction: if you get your bacterial colony healthy you will lose weight.
Probiotics are present in fermented foods and I believe one of the safest ways of replenishing our colonies. But, even this needs to be treated with respect. Eating large quantities sauerkraut, tasty Kefir or sugary Kombucha, may not be the most healthful for your body. As I said before, getting too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Any bacteria good or bad in our body can become opportunistic if its not kept in balance. Fermented foods were meant as a condiment not mass quantities as I see people consuming them today. As humans we have been making and consuming fermented foods for thousands of years. Fermenting food not only preserves foods but predigests it and makes the nutrients more bioavailable, as well as supplying us with some of these probiotic bacteria.
Here is a short list of some common fermented foods:
Salami or fermented meats
Milk as in buttermilk, sour cream
Yogurt as well as yogurt like products like kefir or lassi
Fermented grains as in sourdough bread, rye bread or sprouted essence bread or Soaked cereals made into porridge
Fermented beans as in miso, tempeh,
Apple cider vinegar
I believe in the future we will be understanding bacteria more and be using them in an intelligent way to help heal many illnesses.
Exciting times we live in.