I like to think of the modern day micro biome like a battle scene straight out of Lord of the Rings. Here we are, in a world absolutely filled with bacteria, billions of microbes live on your pinky finger alone. Yet the visible world (us) has waged an all out war on the invisible one, bacteria. Can you guess who the bad guys are?
The battle intensifies as we develop new ways to slaughter pervasive microbes. We attack healthy soil organisms with pesticides and GMO’s without understanding the broader implications. We utterly destroy our entire range of internal bacteria at the slightest onset of any illness. Antibiotics are a useful tool in some cases, but it’s becoming more obvious that they are wholly over prescribed. Hand sanitizer graces every super market entrance and shopping mall, concerned parents practically bathe children in the stuff. This battle of bacteria has far reaching implications, these microbes, quite literally, affect every single aspect of our health.
While it’s easy to isolate our ailments into neat and tidy little categories, all with different causes and effects, science is on the way to busting this myth. What our ancestors embraced to help them build their immune systems, preserve food and render difficult to digest foods more bioavailable, we wage war with. I think it’s time to bring to light just how critical bacteria is to our health and well being.
Did you know the beneficial bacteria present in our digestive tracts alone outnumbers the cells in our bodies by 10 to 1, we are literally more bacteria than we are cells. Just ponder the implications of this for a minute.
Have you ever wondered about probiotics? Are they important or is it just another pseudo health nut trend? I’d like to address some of your burning questions about probiotics, the micro biome, and how a healthy gut flora can lead to better health and relief from common ailments.
How the battle began
While I won’t foray too deeply into this topic, it is am important part of the story of how our micro biomes have become so disturbed. It wasn’t too long ago when most women birthed at home, a setting far from sterile. We brought our babies into the world through the birth canal which thus populated them with a range of beneficial bacteria to prepare their immune systems for the new world they were entering. A hearty dose of colostrum was the first meal a new baby would experience, preparing them with a strong dose of antibodies to strengthen their systems at such a vulnerable time of development.
Time went on and babies started being born in hospitals, and while this can be a good thing at times, it isn’t exactly what nature intended. Alas, it’s the path humanity walks along, there’s too much dangerous bacteria in any other setting, or so we assume.
We’re persuaded by our culture to accept modern birthing practices and embrace surgical cesarian procedures as if it didn’t matter. Elective c-sections and unnecessary medical interventions are on the rise and have long been embraced as positive technological advancements, but there is a dark side (1).
Just because we can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there, this applies to bacteria as much as it does to the wind or gravity. Populating healthy gut bacteria and setting up a child’s foundation of immunity boils down to properly colonizing the child’s micro biome. Ideally baby passes through the birth canal, and is able to breast feed straight away (2),receiving ample amounts of the mothers colostrum. If not, proper probiotic supplementation is crucial or the child could suffer from immune system deficiencies (3).
Why is colostrum important?
Colostrum is natures first food which mammals produce before milk production kicks in, a very precious substance rich in antibodies. It’s basically the mothers immunities imprinted in liquid form and given to her little one to protect them from the various pathogens in our environment. Not all of us got this precious substance as infants, and some have suffered long term immune deficiencies because of it.
There are 87 growth factors in colostrum as well as every single bacteria or disease the mother has ever come in contact with. Human beings who don’t get colostrum at birth suffer the consequences for life.
Colostrum supplements are gaining in popularity as we realize the importance of this substance. It’s also incredibly anti-aging and can heal perforations in the gut. For anyone with intestinal problems, this is an essential addition to your health regime.
Antibiotics have saved countless lives, just like cesarean sections have, but we have come to depend on them as commodities to be used at the first sign of any inconvenience. The literature is clear, antibiotics are being over used and abused, and super bacteria are learning immunity towards them (4).
Long ago, people relied on the natural anti-biotic properties inherent in a variety of plants. We learned to harbour these specific properties and use them to treat minor infections and illness. These plants are still around, but we’ve lost touch with how to use them.
A new way to grow food
Modern agriculture brought us a way to grow copious amounts of food, leaving people with more time and freedom to pursue their endeavours without the need to tend to the garden. What biodynamic gardening embraces as a way to understand soil health, conventional farming sees as a pervasive threat to be abolished. I’m talking about those critters which live and thrive in healthy soil. If it weren’t for these beneficial soil microbes, compost wouldn’t turn into black gold, life as we know it wouldn’t be so.
This is just a fraction of the dilemmas brought forth through excessive use of chemicals in agriculture. It takes a long time for these soils to heal themselves and re-establish a healthy balance of bacteria. It’s understandable to be weary of biotechnology and to question the effects genetically modified crops have on soil microbes (5).
Bacteria play a large role in death, and thus transformation of energy. We can use these microbes to our advantage, death can bring forth new life and abundance. Throwing all of our food scraps in the trash will eventually create soil, but it won’t be usable since its mixed with an assortment of other garbage. Instead, the simple act of composting can create rich organic matter which can in turn grow food. Good compost is actually a worthy investment, one cubic meter goes for over 500$, not bad for just harnessing the energy of bacteria.
Are probiotics really important?
Probiotic supplements can be a useful addition to any lifestyle, especially if our gut flora has been compromised. Just like any supplement nowadays, we’re bombarded with so many options. Knowing what to look for in a probiotic is key to finding an effective product.
There are also many alternative ways to get your probiotic quota. Homemade lacto-fermented foods like sauerkraut have just as much beneficial bacteria as store bought probiotic supplements, perfect for those of us on a budget. Other natural sources of probiotics include kombucha, kefir and yogurt to name a few. What’s evident is that ancestrally speaking, all indigenous people included fermented foods both for health and preservation purposes. Realigning to our wild nature means embracing wild bacteria.
Problems caused by lack of probiotics
While it may seem odd that something like our hormones would be affected by lack of healthy probiotics, it really is all connected.
Estrogen dominance is a common problem among both women and men, especially if we’re consuming foods with estrogen mimickers like soy, and conventionally raised meat or taking oral contraceptives.
For women, balanced estrogen and progesterone is essential for avoiding PMS, endometriosis, ovarian cysts and other hormone related illnesses. Beneficial bacteria recycle and metabolize hormones and help keep estrogen and thyroid hormones in balance.
Candida is both a yeast and parasite present in everyones digestive system. When we take anti-biotics or have an unhealthy diet high in sugars which feed candida yeasts, things can easily get out of control. These yeasts are very fast growing and getting rid of candida overgrowth requires a rigorous protocol void of any sugar and refined foods. Symptoms of candida overgrowth are yeast infections, canker sores, low energy, sugar cravings, brain fog, itchiness,skin problems,food sensitivities and weight gain.
The best cure is prevention and taking probiotics, especially if you’ve recently taken antibiotics or birth control, is crucial to eliminating candida overgrowth.
Removing toxins from the body
There are a lot of scary environmental toxins that our bodies have to deal with. In order to equip them with the necessary tools to remove toxins we need to have balanced gut flora. An excess of bad bacteria in the gut can cause an abundance of the enzyme glucuronidase which breaks the bond between toxin and it’s helpful escort glucoronic acid, this inhibits the toxin from being eliminated, thus creating a cycle of reabsorption (6). The last thing we want is to be reabsorbing old toxins all the while accumulating new ones, this is a recipe for disaster which can be easily averted.
Depression, anxiety and mental illness
There’s little doubt in my mind that as rates of depression rise along with over-prescription of antibiotics we aren’t merely witnessing a coincidence. Healthy gut flora is essential for maintaining a healthy mind state.
While we often think depression is a mental disorder, the root of the problem, lack of serotonin, ultimately originates in our gut. About 95% of serotonin is made in the gut and in order to reach our brains it must pass the blood brain barrier. Certain lifestyle choices, particularly high sugar consumption, can greatly hinder this process.
Nourishing our second brain
The gut literally is our second brain, healthy gut flora equals balanced hormones,less anxiety and depression, and healthier digestion. The feeling of butterflies or intuition stems from the vast network of neurons in our guts. Our second brains contain more neurons that the spinal cord or even the peripheral nervous systems. While it lacks the rational actions of the brain, our gut health does affect mood and emotions, energy levels, and overall feelings of well being.
A revelatory new field of science, neurogastroenterology is on the rise, as more and more evidence points to abnormalities in the gut linking to diseases like multiple sclerosis (9) and even osteoporosis (10). In the future we’re likely to see psychiatrists being trained not only to treat our main brain, but the second brain as well.
Probiotics have been shown to have positive anti-inflammatory effects beyond the gut. Chronic inflammation is at the root of every disorder, you can look to even the most far fetched of diseases and find inflammation is always a factor (12). Even mental health problems have been associated to inflammation in the brain. Treatment for any disorder should involve a thorough reestablishment of healthy gut bacteria balance.
The most obvious of symptoms from lack of healthy gut bacteria is of course poor digestion. A variety of ailments can manifest in our GI tracts from mere stomach aches to full blown IBS, leaky gut syndrome and Crohn’s disease. The long term effects of chronic probiotic deficiency are autoimmune conditions which remain difficult to reverse.
Combining treatments for digestive disorders with probiotics has been shown to be very effective (16). For anyone suffering from these issues, supplementing with high quality colostrum is also very important. We can heal the digestive tract but it takes time and scrutiny, a clean diet free from gluten and other common allergens and balancing the gut flora are the most critical steps in dealing with these painful and downright exhausting problems.
Natural alternatives to antibiotics
While its comforting to know antibiotics are there for us when we really need them, they shouldn’t be the immediate therapy for mild illness. Natures bounty has gifted us plenty of natural antibiotics, chief among them being…
What other substances affect our gut flora?
Antibiotics certainly aren’t the only thing that can disturb healthy gut bacteria. Other common culprits include…
-Chlorine in tap water
-Bleach and other household chemicals
-Anti bacterial soap and hand sanitizer
-Eating too much antibacterial foods ex.oregano oil
-Refined sugar and carbohydrates
-Glyphosate and chemical pesticide residue (17)
-GMO foods (18)
Tips for finding a good probiotic
- CFU stands for colony forming units, this is an important measurement which tells you how many live organisms are in your probiotic.
- Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are two strains that do work together, otherwise it’s best to stick to single strains for specific problems.
- Broad spectrum simply means your probiotic has multiple bacterial strains, this isn’t necessarily a good thing as some bacterias actually work against each other.
- Enterically coated means that your stomach acids won’t be able to kill the probiotics before they reach your gut where they belong.
- The best probiotics I’ve found are either Natren,which utilize a unique oil based delivery method or Dr.Ohhira’s which are specifically designed for maximum absorption.
- For those of us who are vegan or sensitive to dairy, there are also probiotics which come from soil based organisms.
- Incorporate lacto-fermented foods, kombucha, kefir and yogurt as often as possible.
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Are you convinced yet that the invisible world that holds the key to our health, both inside and out is being attacked from all angles. If we want to win the battle we need to educate and instigate change in our own lives. By embracing good bacteria we can do away with overgrowth of the bad and truly heal ourselves from the inside out. What are you waiting for? What’s your favourite way to nourish the kingdom within?