Bacteria get a bad rap. The thought of harboring bacteria makes many people cringe and run for antibiotic medication. In reality, good health depends on the presence of bacteria in your body … billions of them. In fact, the bacteria in your body outnumber your own cells by 100 to 1.
The population of bacteria living in your gut and throughout your body is referred to as the microbiome. The microbiome consists of good and bad bacteria. There is a constant battle occurring in which good bacteria are defending your body. Good health requires a proper balance between the good and the bad bacteria; the balance between good and bad bacteria is very delicate.
Good bacteria are known as probiotics. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live organisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.” Probiotics help to protect us from bad bacteria and other pathogens such as fungus, yeast and viruses (yes, “viruses” is the accepted plural for virus … check your Scrabble dictionary).
Most of the microbiome resides in the gut. We know that the gut serves as the “second brain;” the gut actually provides more input to the brain than the brain provides to the gut. Gut health impacts the function of the immune and nervous systems and it can influence our susceptibility to a variety of diseases including cancer, respiratory infections, urogenital infections, obesity, multiple sclerosis, diarrhea, constipation, allergies and lactose intolerance (to name only a few). Gut health has also been shown to have an influence on mental health and emotional well-being. The microbiome even affects your food cravings, and it has been shown that obese people have different bacteria “ruling” their microbiome than lean people.
Additionally, the gut is the gate-keeper for systemic inflammation. Good bacteria suppress inflammatory signals, but bad gut microbes can trigger the production of inflammatory chemical messengers. Due to the interdependence between gut and brain function (known as the Gut-Brain Axis), an inflammatory message can begin in the gut and then travel to the brain; the brain then sends inflammatory signals out to the rest of the body. This is a big deal because inflammation is at the core of most disease, including dreaded maladies such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune dysfunction and more.
The bottom line? It is vital to realize that your gut microbiome dramatically affects and controls the health of your entire body. So how do we promote a healthy gut? How do we cultivate a robust population of good bacteria in our guts? We will close with key concepts in answer to these questions.
A healthy diet is the most important way to protect your gut. Fermented and cultured foods have been shown to “heal and seal” the gut; organic kefir and organic yogurt are good examples. The gut-healthy diet will emphasize unprocessed, unsweetened foods and clean, pure water.
Additionally, supplementation is helpful and wise. There are three categories of supplemental bacterial biotics. Probiotics are live organisms that, when consumed in adequate doses, provide a health benefit. Common types of probiotic bacteria include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate growth and activity of intestinal bacteria to improve wellness. Synbiotics are a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. These supplements are generally available in powdered form or powder capsules. There are also chewable forms available for children.
Conversely, a poor diet and antibiotic drugs can severely compromise gut health. Reduce or eliminate your consumption of grains and foods which contain added sugars. Bad bacteria, yeast and fungi love this stuff and proliferate when you eat it. Use a reverse osmosis filter to remove chlorine from drinking water; chlorine not only kills bad bacteria in the water but also good bacteria in your gut. Processed and pasteurized foods can also be harmful to the beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Finally, be mindful that antibiotic medicines are not smart bombs which kill only bad bacteria. They also wipe out beneficial gut bacteria. It is well established that antibiotic medicines are overused. The explanation offered for this is that patients expect to be provided with antibiotics even when they present with minor illness or viral infections against which antibiotics are useless (like the common cold). Don’t be that patient. Do not press your doctor to prescribe antibiotics. Use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and unavoidable. If you do have to use an antibiotic medicine, be sure to replenish your gut with good bacteria through probiotic supplementation and consumption of fermented and cultured foods.
In natural health care, working to heal the gut is often one of my first tasks when dealing with chronic difficult cases like autoimmune dysfunction, chronic fatigue, hormone imbalance, chronic infection, obesity, chronic pain and more. This may require a temporary special diet and a regimen of specialized therapeutic nutritional products including probiotic supplements.
One of the best things you can do to avoid becoming that chronically ill patient is to protect your gut. To a great extent, gut health determines overall health. If you are feeling well, you should probably thank your resident bacteria.
Dr. R. Todd Shaver is a chiropractic physician at Shaver Chiropractic & Natural Medicine. As a distinguished fellow of chiropractic biophysics, Dr. Shaver utilizes spinal adjustment and other chiropractic physical medicine procedures to address injury and pain and to promote wellness. He is Wilmington’s only chiropractic physician to have achieved specialty status (D.I.C.C.P.) in chiropractic pediatrics and prenatal care. To learn more, go to www.shavernaturalmedicine.com, call (910) 452-5555, or contact his office at [email protected].
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