Micro-biome basics

The media is promoting the “good bacteria” in our guts – it is a great selling point for yoghurt however does not apply to most factory yoghurt.  Still, “good bacteria” is important.

Besides all the organisms you can see, from fruit flies to elephants, there are thousands too small to see.  These, the micro-organisms, are bacteria, protozoa, viruses, yeasts, and so on. They are one-celled creatures and fully alive:  they absorb nutrition, expel waste, and grow and reproduce according to their own internal DNA. Micro-organisms are essential to us.  They make all our fermented foods like wine, beer, cheese, yoghurt and more, and they make our bread rise.

They also live on us and inside us; they help digest food and make vitamins.  If you are healthy, about ten pounds of your weight is actually your micro-biome, (also called “biota”) the collection of millions of invisible (to the naked eye) micro-organisms that call your body home.  Most of them are in your gut or on your skin. You can’t be healthy without them.

They were first discovered in the 1600’s when the microscope was invented.  Recently, our knowledge about the micro-biome has been exploding.

Now, what is your gut?  The digestive tract or ‘alimentary tract’ is essentially a long tube – around 30 feet long if you straightened it out. It starts with the mouth and includes the esophagus (in the throat), stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon, and rectum.  Like the hole in a doughnut or a bagel, it goes through but actually not into. The surface of the outside continues as the surface of the tube. In fact, the skin and the gut are formed from the same type of cell—epithelial cells. They both offer hospitality to micro-organisms.  

Of course, these are not all good.  “Germs” are disease-causing biota, and when our immune system can not control them, we use “antibiotics.”   When we support the immune system, we can minimize our dependence on antibiotics. That is best because otherwise the germs adapt to survive and antibiotics also kill friendly essential bacteria.   Sometimes yoghurt is recommended after a series of antibiotics to repair the microbiome. Most commercial yoghurt has no live bacteria plus added sugar; that stuff won’t help you much.

The good microbes on your skin help keep disease out.  I seriously question those hand “sanitizers” that are everywhere now because some studies suggest that instead of protecting us, they do more harm by killing good bacteria.  

The micro-biome and our relationship with it are huge topics.  Maybe keep this introduction handy for further explorations. How we replenish it (probiotics), how we nourish it (prebiotics), its role in physical and mental health and chronic illness. For those interested, my workshop on micro-biome in January is at Torrance Health in Markham, far from Downsview, but it’s free and you are welcome. The date is not confirmed – please email me if you want details.

Comments or questions? Write to Nicole@IndividualCare.com.   Nicole Constant is a registered Doctor of Naturopathy.   Her website is:  www.IndividualCare.CA.

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