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.

Nurturing potential, showcasing excellence

Currently only 1.2% of Ontario’s apprentices are represented by racialized individuals in the construction industry. Through Community Benefits Agreements (CBAs) Black Youth are slowly being hired onto the construction sites of large Canadian infrastructure projects. CBAs are also opening opportunities for small to medium sized businesses interested in penetrating the Canadian construction supply chain.

On Tuesday, December 12, the Toronto Community Benefits Network (TCBN) hosted a breakfast to officially launch their Black Youth Mentoring Program. The plan applies a 2-pronged approach to changing the narrative around Black Youth. The first piece will mentor qualified Black Youth construction workers apprenticing in the trades known as the “Next-Gen-Builders” program. The second part will enhance the skills of a Black Youth consultancy known as the BYD Team. The goal of BYD Team is to fulfil on current and grow future construction industry social procurement strategies.

The Black Youth Mentoring Program Launch, which took place in the beautiful University of Toronto Faculty Club, was a fantastic experience. It was amazing to be in that room where high level representatives from the construction trades and industry professionals, mingled with equity seeking community members. It was especially refreshing to hear some of the Black Youth apprentices recently welcomed into the Canadian construction industry, speak of reluctance replaced by optimism through TCBN’s new mentoring program. Also interesting was hearing Pat Dillon, Business Manager and Secretary Treasurer of the Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council of Ontario, voice his support for TCBN and community efforts by recommending they approach the struggle “more aggressively”. With high profile support from the likes of Dillon, community must be optimistic that integrating the construction industry in the lifetime of today’s youth is a real possibility, right?

Also inspiring were the words of Grover Johnson, Vice President of the American chapter of LiUNA’s African American Caucus. Grover’s words clearly indicated the American Community Benefits movement is far ahead of our own. In his home state of Washington, they have progressed beyond the need to negotiate a CBA for every capital project, it is now policy. They now move directly to Workforce Development Agreements. It really goes to show that what we hear so frequently in the news about our neighbours to the south may be the cries from a group of reactionaries who are in their final death throes. These are certainly exciting times for the Canadian community benefits movement.

North York Women’s Shelter’s new facilities bring opportunities

In spring of 2019, North York Women’s Shelter (NYWS) will open the doors to its newly renovated facilities that are set to be kid friendly, culturally competent, and include a community hub. NYWS is nestled in between Downsview Park and Sheppard West station – making it connected to a local scene and accessible to the rest of the city’s resources.

Established in 1984, NYWS continues to be a safe place for women and children impacted by violence. As research on how to best help survivors of gendered violence advanced, NYWS took federal funding opportunities to redesign and renovate the facility to better serve their residents.

Executive Director, Mohini Datta-Ray, described the new shelter as “future oriented” with a focus on providing survivors a holistic approach to healing and giving women the tools they need to take the next steps in their lives.

It will be a 24,000 square feet shelter with 17 bedrooms and 17 bathrooms with 30 beds, with the capacity for an additional 10 beds if their operational budget targets are met. This is a huge improvement from the 3,000 square feet shelter with only six bedrooms and three bathrooms for 30 beds that left residents crowded and prevented necessary programming.

Traditionally, women’s shelters are at a confidential and discrete location. Shelters are usually intended to be outside the purview of the community and to exist in isolation of the neighbourhood.

“It’s a new model – we’re breaking the paradigm. The model is that we are both a shelter and a community service hub,” Datta-Ray explained. The community hub will service not only those in the shelter but women within the community who need a safe space and cannot leave their situations.

The shelter itself will be built to accommodate children, have a kennel for residents’ dogs, and a wood-burning oven for women of different cultures to bake bread. Its new community hub will have partnerships with different groups like the Black Creek Community Health Centre, Black Creek Community Farm, and other service groups to ensure that clients can access the resources they need.

As Toronto becomes more expensive and funding for ending violence against women continues to be erratic and dependent on governments, it is important to not only give survivors the resources they need to survive but also to thrive.

The new NYWS has a large 1000 square-foot multipurpose room that can be a space where women can self-organize and be political. Alongside providing services, NYWS aims to foster a peer-support system so women can be politically active and demand more from their politicians to enact lasting change.

“We realized that you can build 40 thousand shelters but you will never address the issue because you are just continuing to address the symptom of the problem,” Datta-Ray explained. The new space will help empower residents to advocate for institutional changes to end violence against women.