Barbara Goshorn RN MSACN
“The Nurse Nutritionist”
Most of us grew up believing bacteria were bad for us. Isn’t it bacteria that lead to infection and make us sick? In reality though, only a minute percentage of bacteria make us sick and most are beneficial and even necessary for good health. Its true, antibiotics have saved countless lives, but over the past decade researchers have discovered that the human body is the host to 100 trillion mostly beneficial bacteria which help digest food, program the immune system, and prevent infection, and even influence mood and behavior. Scientists now believe the bacteria living on and in us make up our own unique “microbiome”, an ecosystem in which bacteria play a role in many conditions that genes and environmental factors alone can’t explain, including obesity, autism, depression, and asthma. The discovery of the microbiome is “very much like finding an organ we didn’t know we had”, according to Michael Fischbach, a bioengineer at the University of California, San Francisco.
Bacteria thrive throughout the body. They are in our mouths, lungs, skin, teeth, and especially in our gut. The human gut contributes over four pounds of bacteria. The Human Microbiome Project, a government supported effort to map our bacterial ecosystems, has discovered that people harbor 10 bacterial cells for every human cell and at least 10,000 different species of bacteria! It is postulated that understanding each person’s unique bacterial profile, will help give clues to disease and design better medications and treatments in the future. This in turn has led to researchers trying to figure out what makes a healthy microbiome.
Microbiome research is in its infancy, but there is already mounting evidence that an imbalance of gut flora may be responsible for many of the gastrointestinal problems such as irritable bowel and Crohn’s Disease. Research has shown that when mice are fed a high fat, “junk food” diet, the microbes in their guts changed much as they do in humans on a fast-food diet. Bacteria have also been implicated in the obesity epidemic. Additional studies show that when obese individuals undergo gastric bypass surgery to lose weight, their gut bacteria becomes more like the bacteria harbored by thin people, contributing to weight loss. Microbes may even influence mental states. Studies in mice have shown that changes in gut flora can relieve or exacerbate depression and anxiety. Researchers believe that the microbes may encourage neurons in the intestines to signal the brain to alter hormone levels. It has been shown that autistic children, who frequently suffer from gastrointestinal problems, often carry a type of gut bacteria non autistic children don’t.
You can have your own unique microbiome analyzed by a company called BioFrontiers Institute at the University of Colorado, Boulder. For most of us though, there are less expensive steps we can do to improve our bacteria health. Diet plays a significant role in our microbial health. A typical American diet is very low in fiber (fiber is a prebiotic food for bacteria). Consumption of, mass-produced, highly processed and caloric dense foods are devoid of any positive prebiotic or probiotics. Eat real food that has been minimally processed. Use soap and water instead of antimicrobial gels. Our hands and bodies need to be cleaned, not sterilized. Try and use antibiotics carefully. Most illnesses are viral in nature and don’t require antibiotics. Research is demonstrating that although not perfect, taking a probiotic, especially after a round of antibiotics appears to be a prudent choice. For more information, http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/magazine/say-hello-to-the-100-trillion-bacteria-that-make-up-your-microbiome.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.