Did you know that you are composed of 1,000-times more bacteria than human cells?  Hundreds of different species of bacteria live in every nook and cranny of your body, inside and out.

What was once thought to be a bunch of freeloaders now is known to be as important as your liver or kidneys. You serve as their host, almost like a cruise liner for them. It is in their interest for the ship to not sink. Consequently, these bacteria work together in complex ways to regulate your body’s chemistry.

They do this by communicating with one another through the release of small chemical messengers. These messengers can be thought of as pheromones released by a moth or butterfly. By the number and types of chemical messengers in circulation, bacteria “know” how large the colony is of each species and how healthy each colony is. Using this information, they are able to adjust their activity and their individual numbers in ways that benefit your body.

Do you remember the Flintstones cartoons? One of the historical inaccuracies was that prehistoric humans had refrigeration. On the contrary, scientists believe that our ancestors consumed significant amounts of decomposing food. As long as it wasn’t too ripe, they would have been given high doses of bacteria, most of which were helpful.  This is how we came to be dependent on bacteria.

Bacteria Helps Maintain Your Health

The main roles bacteria help us with include:

  • Regulation of your immune system
  • Formation of nutrients from foods
  • Control of how you eliminate your hormones
  • The breakdown of chemical toxins from your body
  • How you read your genetic code

Studies have shown that these roles have specific and measurable effects on your health. Types and amounts of good bacteria have been shown to influence numerous diseases including:

Obesity Chronic Fatigue Stroke Acne
Ulcerative Colitis Eczema Fibromyalgia Arthritis
Kidney disease Bladder infections Psoriasis Crohn’s disease

Balance of Healthy Bacteria Key to Health

Given the importance of good bacteria, it is apparent that keeping them healthy will keep you healthy. They work like a compost pile, breaking down wastes to make healthy soil. If the wrong things go into the compost, you get mold instead of healthy soil.

Likewise, our good bacteria are vulnerable to going bad. The term ‘dysbiosis,’ refers to any state of our bacteria that works against our health. Unfortunately, many factors common to modern life can hurt our good bacteria. These include:

Processed Sugar Oral Antibiotics Oral Contraceptives Chlorinated water
Fluoridated water Pesticides from food Hand sanitizers Food Preservatives
Stress Low Fiber Diets Prescription medicines Excess Alcohol

It is apparent how valuable and how vulnerable our bacteria are. Keeping them working for us is a worthwhile effort.

Probiotics in sauerkraut

How to Make Your Bacteria Work for You

Step 1: Avoid all the above factors that hurt them. Eating organic, minimally processed foods is the best way to do this. Never fear washing with soap but do avoid frequent use of hand sanitizers and products with antimicrobial chemicals.

Step 2: Include naturally fermented foods in your diet. This DOES NOT include the 4 day old potato salad left over from the family picnic. The easiest versions to start with include:

  • Miso
  • Kimchee
  • Sauerkraut

Miso is a brown paste which is made into a broth. Most have soy, but many soy-free versions are available. My favorite recipe for miso soup is pretty simple. Slice a green onion into small pieces. Add it and 1 tbsp. of miso to a cup of hot water. Mix well, let sit for 3 minutes and enjoy.

Kimchee is a wonderful traditional Korean food. Like sauerkraut, it is fermented cabbage. Unlike sauerkraut, it is usually spicy and made with lots of garlic and chilies. A tablespoon or so works great alongside most meals.

Most people have tried sauerkraut. It is a great food that goes well with any protein dish. Keep the quantities under ½ a cup to avoid excess sodium.

All of these foods can be found at health food supermarkets. Look for raw, unpasteurized versions.

Step 3: Good bacteria can also be supplemented. Many supplements that contain them are available in pills, drinks and chewable tablets. Unfortunately, they are hard to keep stable after production. Probiotic supplements do not have any known side effects or harmful interactions with drugs. Some people who really lack their own good flora may notice gas or looser stools the first few days they use probiotics. This does pass — no pun intended!

When independent assays are done, most products are found to have few viable bacteria remaining. Refrigerated products are not more apt to be stable than non-refrigerated.

Among products with good quality control, the strongest predictor of how well they will work is quite simply the number of viable bacteria available. The more good bacteria you get per serving, the more they can help your health.

Products have gotten better in the recent past. The best products used to have 500 million bacteria. Then many came out with 10-20 billion. My current favorite has 225 billion good bacteria of many different strains. This is so powerful that you can take 1 dose weekly for maintenance. Those with immune or digestive problems can take a daily dose for 1 month then go on to weekly dosing.

Assuming you are not planning on eating decomposing food, probiotics are worth supplementing regularly. Benefits can include better skin, less bloating and easier weight loss.

 Article provided by Dr. Alan Christianson, Integrative Health