Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Bacteria’s Essential Role in Health

Bacteria’s Essential Role in Health

Yoni Whitten, D.C., C.C.W.P
We have all been brought up to fear germs. Germ theory tells us that if we are exposed to germs, we get sick. But we are all exposed to hundreds of thousands of germs every single day of our lives and the vast majority of us rarely get sick. There are even deadly bacteria living right on our skin and inside of us that fail to make us ill. If exposure to germs is the deciding factor why is it that when a bunch of kids in a classroom or a group of people in an office are exposed to one sick person, some may come down with that illness but others will not?
More often than not, the deciding factor is not our exposure to germs. Whether or not we get sick ultimately comes down to the strength of our body’s immune system. It may come as a surprise that 85% of the body’s immune system is actually inside of our digestive tract – in the form of bacteria. The importance and benefit of these bacteria simply cannot be underestimated. Modern medical research is finding that having the proper bacteria inside of us is one of the keys to health and longevity.
Probiotic bacteria are one of the most important types of health-promoting bacteria in our body.Probiotics stimulate the body’s immune system and protect us against infection as well as the growth of harmful microorganisms. They do so by establishing colonies that physically compete for space with and crowd out the unhealthy bacteria, viruses and fungi that we are exposed to on a daily basis. They also improve our digestion and absorption of nutrients, and ensure we get everything our bodies require from the foods that we eat. In addition, probiotics promote regular bowel function and are even used for the synthesis of certain vitamins.
New research indicates that we shouldn’t be waiting until we become sick to reap the benefits of these essential nutrients. In fact, a recently published study showed that probiotic supplementation boosts the body’s ability to fight off the flu. The researchers measured a specific blood marker responsible for regulating immune response within the body and found it was increased by an astonishing 1709% after supplementing with probiotics for just one month.
A separate study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrologyshowed that people that carry a specific strain of probiotic bacteria are 70% less likely to develop kidney stones. More exciting research was released at the European Congress on Obesity, where researchers reported that probiotics can help women lose weight after pregnancy. Specifically that, 6 months after giving birth women using probiotic supplements were half as likely to classified as obese utilizing the Body Mass Index.
It has been determined that “the daily present-age consumption of bacteria is a million times less than was consumed by our Stone Age ancestors. This is a disadvantage because these bacteria have several documented functions in the body that are important for wellbeing.” The unfortunate truth is that we not only consume far less health-promoting bacteria nowadays, but the probiotics we do consume quickly enter into an environment which is inhospitable and very hostile to them.
Up until the time we are born, we are completely sterile and free of bacteria. Traditionally, we would receive our first dose of probiotic bacteria at birth, from our mothers, whose birth canal is lined with colonies of them. This initial dose would serve as the foundation upon which our immune system would build and develop over our lifetime. Unfortunately, modern birthing techniques have all but eliminated this essential first dose of bacteria. Add to this, the excessive use of antibiotics in children and young adults and it’s not difficult to see how we have been crippling our kids from an immuno-logical standpoint and setting ourselves up for health failure in the process.
While there are certain instances when antibiotic use cannot be avoided, they were never intended to be the first line of defense. The main problem with antibiotics is that they are indiscriminant killers. In other words, they do not differentiate between health-promoting and potentially harmful bacteria; they simply go in and kill everything. According to Gary Huffnagle, Ph.D., one of the country’s leading researchers on probiotics “We’re now finding that eliminating all the good microbes from our body results in a weaker immune system, which we believe is leading to problems such as increased incidence of chronic disease”.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that consumption of the Western diet and our modern lifestyles result in conditions within the body that deter colonization of health-promoting bacteria. Specific problems include fiber deficiency, alcohol consumption, the use of birth control pills and drinking water treatments that utilize chlorination and/or fluoridation. These all contribute to making life miserable for our microbial friends. Furthermore, the rampant use of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides in commercial farming practices lead to problems similar to those caused by antibiotics. Like antibiotics, these dangerous chemicals are indiscriminant killers and have left the soil that most of our food is grown in and us, as a side-effect, completely deficient of these essential nutrients.
Probiotic supplementation is one of the simplest and most effective ways of reintroducing these essential nutrients into our bodies. Research has shown that by including these essential bacteria in our diets, we can strengthen our body’s immune system and make ourselves more resistant to a number of illnesses all while becoming healthier in the process. The body has certain requirements for health and when those are met, we are healthy. When they are not, we are heading in the opposite direction. Don’t wait for health problems to occur before taking action. This is prevention at its’ finest.
Action Step:
Start fulfilling your body’s requirement for health-promoting bacteria today - Add the highest quality probiotic supplement to your diet. 
Remember:
  • Not all strains of probiotic bacteria are created equal. When choosing a probiotic supplement it’s imperative to select strains that will adhere to the intestinal wall and form colonies as it is only from the adherent bacteria that true health-promoting effects can be realized.
  • Lactobacillus plantarum was the most common bacteria in the food of our ancestors and a recent study showed that the 3 dominant probiotics strains in healthy individuals were L. plantarum, L. rhamnosus and L. casei.
  • Common dairy bacteria, such as acidophilus, do not adhere to the walls of the intestines and so their benefit is transient at best.
  • These bacteria live on soluble fiber – increasing your fruit and vegetable consumption will ensure those bacteria have every opportunity to adhere to and form colonies within the digestive tract.
  • Increasing the amount of fermented foods in your diet can help boost your probiotic intake - foods such as raw sauerkraut, kombucha and kim chi are all good choices.
  • Choose organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible to avoid exposure to harmful pesticide, herbicide and fungicide residues.
  • Add household water filters and only drink and bath in water that has been filtered of all contaminants.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption all together.
References:
  1. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. (2007) 85.6 1586-1591.
  2. http://www.postgradmed.com/index.php?free=pgm_03_2009?article=1971&ex=1971
  3. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/dietandfitness/5290810/A-probiotic-drink-a-day-helps-women-lose-weight-after-giving-birth.html
  4. Bengmark, S. MD Ph.D. Immunonutrition: Role of Biosurfactants, fiber and probiotic bacteria. Nutrition 1998: 14; 585-594.

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