Your microbiome refers to the assemblage of microbes (bacteria) that live in and on our body. These living bacteria, considered ‘friendly flora’, or commensal for the most part, outnumber our own human cells 10 to 1. We are more foreign bacteria than we are ‘human’! Up to 5 lbs. of our body weight is made up of the living, high-functioning bacteria we carry around with us, mostly residing in our colon or gut. (Remember most of our bodyweight is actually comprised of water.)
We’ve come a long way in our understanding of microbes, and what distinguishes a good bacteria from a disease causing pathogen. By now, from a holistic perspective you should understand that while there is a time and place for sanitation, anti-bacterial soaps & cleaners, and antibiotic drugs, to be optimally healthy we must learn to co-exist with bacteria and even nurture and feed our own friendly flora that we are host to. Culturally we should not associate the word bacteria with dirty or unsanitary. When we are truly healthy in a holistic sense, we naturally coexist with most types of bacteria, even the disease causing ones – they simply don’t seem to infect us on a day to day basis. In fact our own colonies of friendly bacteria help us ‘fight off’ the bad bacteria. It’s an amazing microbial world of checks and balances taking place within our gut and on every surface of our body, established initially from birth, and building onward.
Improper initial bacterial colonization at birth and as infants due to C-section delivery (because vaginal birth is when and where newborns receive their first implantation of bacteria from mom), or chronic disruption of these native flora colonies due to long term use of antibiotic drugs can skew our health so far of course that many systemic inflammatory, and auto-immune diseases can be set in motion, often blamed on other allergic reactions, or lifestyle factors such as poor diet or lack of exercise. This is because, our native gut flora, also serve to regulate and balance our immune system and prevent it from over-reacting. Over time, our immune system gets conditioned to the friendly microbes and bacteria living in our gut and learns not to react to them or attack them. The immune T-cells become regulated. But when a course of antibiotics disrupts our good bacteria colonies, it can leave a void for bad pathogenic, disease causing bacteria to take up residence or multiply.
In fact many systemic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases are now being re-thought to be caused or linked to missing or dysfunctional gut flora, such as type-2 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, Celiac’s disease, colitis, even obesity and autism. Is it possible that the recent surge in folks who claim to have a ‘gluten-sensitivity or allergy’ may actually have an imbalance or lack or healthy bacteria residing in their gut? This is all based on a relatively new project of research known as The Human Microbiome Project which was commissioned in 2007 and is still ongoing now. Not only is the research directed at learning more about how we mutually coexist and rely on bacteria, but researchers are also genetically coding the DNA of these bacteria, and linking them to specific human traits or diseases. These various colonies of bacteria reside all over our body and they can only live in their designated spot and are high-functioning and symbiotic. And everywhere they exist they are part of a microbiome area of human real estate where they maintain a system of checks and balances and help regulate our immune system, and even produce a myriad of enzymes that are necessary for final digestion and nutrient absorption.Did you know that without gut bacteria we would be unable to produce the enzymes to synthesize vitamin B? And that final part of complex-carbohydrate and fiber digestion is only possible because colon bacteria do so by fermentation (sometimes producing methane gas as a byproduct)? Even bacteria that were once thought to be only problematic and pathogenic, like H. pylori, (blamed for causing stomach ulcers), are being discovered to serve other important roles and throw something else out of balance when you remove them. For instance, when H. pylori is destroyed with prescription medication, even if the ulcer is healed, it then causes Ghrelin levels (the ‘hunger’ hormone), to rise unchecked, and the victims tend to gain follow on weight.
It is simply beyond the scope of this article to even begin to touch on the myriad of essential, symbiotic functions that are accomplished by the trillions of bacteria we coexist with. What I want you to take away with you though are two important points for your holistic health:
1. Replenish and even re-establish your healthy gut flora daily, by eating probiotic and fermented foods, such as Organic yogurt or cottage cheese or drinking Kombucha tea. You can also supplement with probiotic capsules that contain billions of living friendly bacteria. You can than ‘feed’ your gut flora by eating plenty of greens and fibrous foods!If you have a history of using antibiotic drugs, then you may have seriously disrupted and imbalanced your own microbiome. It could perhaps be the underlying cause of any number of allergies, inflammatory diseases, or auto-immune ailments you may have. You should immediately begin a home program to re-establish health bacteria colonies and gut flora. You can do this by eating probiotic abundant whole foods listed above, and by supplementing. The latest cutting edge, emergency medical treatment, (and I assure you this is not anecdotal or without prior clinical testing), is for folks with serious intestinal infections or inflammatory disorders to undergo fecal microbiota transplantations, or FMTs, from trusted, tested fecal donors, to instantly kickstart healthy gut flora colonies. This procedure is also known as Fecal Bacteriotherapy.