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.

Bruise news – potatoes

I think we are all familiar with bruises, especially on our knees and on our kids.  On our bodies, bruises show the rupture of the tiny blood vessels called “capillaries” due to injury.  The bruise fits right into the body’s self-repair project, which includes temporary blood clots and reconstruction.  Usually, there is nothing to worry about and not much to do. An ice pack early in the injury can move the process along.

It is not exactly the same with bruised potatoes (or apples, etc.).  A potato, once bruised, does not heal. Although there is some slow movement of fluids inside a vegetable, there is no blood and no repair mechanism.  A plant can seal off the injured area and just work around the injury. A bruised potato gets a black spot and before we eat the potato, we instinctively cut the bruise off.   

And that’s the smart thing to do.  Although the bruise does not make the potato sick, eating the bruise could make you sick.  The bruised spot on the potato collects toxins and pathogens (germs). They are bacteria feasting on the injured potato tissue, and you don’t want to eat that or them.

Dr. Caius Rommens, Ph. D., is a scientist who was working in genetic engineering (GMO) with a company in Idaho –  Idaho is famous for American potatoes like PEI for Canadian potatoes. He is my hero today. Dr. Rommens blew the whistle and quit his job.  His team created a potato that does not change color when bruised. The bruise stays white—but it still collects the toxins and pathogens. The company, called Simplot, sells these potatoes as “bruise-resistant” or “russet-white.”  However, they are not bruise resistant:  they just conceal the toxins so you are more likely to consume the pathogens.  

In an interview, Dr. Rommens explained how good scientists get involved in bad work and why the government approval process fails to intervene.  You can read it at www.gmwatch.org .  He wrote a book about these issues, Pandora’s Potatoes: The Worst GMO’s.

I am fully convinced that we should avoid GMO foods.  They do not solve any problems. The evidence of their harm is increasing.

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

Politics! Blood Pressure! & More!

With recent and ongoing political squabbles, here and abroad, you might feel like you have had enough!  People say “It makes my blood boil”. If you are really upset, politics might make you feel like your blood pressure is going up.  And maybe it does but it is hard to measure. However, you are more likely to feel it if you are already dealing with elevated blood pressure.

Anger and excitement release adrenaline.  Too much adrenaline puts a lot of stress on your arteries. Normally, vessels repair the arterial damage with plaque.  Plaque reinforces weak areas of the vessels. Chemicals in your blood clean up a lot of that plaque where it becomes excessive, but as we age plaque accumulates and can lead to arteriosclerosis.  In arteriosclerosis, the veins are stiffer and clogged making it hard for the heart to pump blood and causing our pressure goes up.

Some researchers believe that all plaque starts out with tiny blood clots.  Therefore, basic to the internal cleanup is a normal enzyme, plasmin, that scrubs out the clots.  The process is called “thrombolysis” (from “thrombos”—lump and “lysis”—loosen). For instance, if you get a nosebleed or an injury, plasmin does not interfere with the necessary clotting that you need to start the fixing, but after you heal, it helps get rid of unneeded clots.

Plasmin is unique.  No other body chemical is known to do the same job; however, there are some nutritional substances that can bolster its work.  Important among these are papain, the enzyme from papaya, bromelain from pineapple and nattokinase. This last (not actually an enzyme but a real artery cleaner) comes from fermented soy beans, well known in traditional diets of Japan.  Nattokinase may be the most powerful of our clot-busting friends. I’m excited about it because after a long absence, it has again become available in Canada. It is not an over-the-counter supplement, at least for now, but it is available for licensed health practitioners who can supervise its use.  I’m looking forward to adding this tool when my clients consult me about blood pressure. I have found no reports whatsoever about undesirable secondary effects; still, some caution and supervision is sensible because long term use has not been studied a lot. Possibly some official nervousness results from confusion with aspirin (which works in a completely different way) or with prescription “blood thinners”.   The regulation of health products is often mysterious to me, but I won’t go into that. You already told me you had enough of politics!

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