Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gut Microbes & Health

Gut microbes, or more commonly known as probiotics, are a very diverse group of microorganisms that reside in our intestines. It is estimated that between 10 to 14 trillion organisms reside there. Until recently it was mostly a realm of the alternative medicine world, and did not get any respect form mainstream medicine.

We in the alternative medicine camp have advocated strong support for the probiotic content for many years. Emerging science has proven that we were correct in our quest to keep the gut healthy via probiotics or friendly bacteria. Recently there has been much interest in the gut microbes and their link to our immune systems. Research shows that approximately 70% of our immune function resides in our gut via these remarkable creatures that coexist within us.

One of the emerging problems that our gut has in keeping a good quantity of these beneficial bacteria is the over use of antibiotics and the increasing use of antibiotics in the food supply. And, then there is the hygiene hypothesis. In the hygiene hypothesis researchers are led to believe that we are too clean. Lets explore both of these.

It is common knowledge that there is a problem with overuse of antibiotics and the growing number of resistant pathogenic bacteria. Americans, as well as other countries, are running to the doctor and demanding antibiotics at the first sign of even the common cold. Once the patient takes the antibiotic they fail to reestablish the beneficial bacteria in the gut. This leaves them more prone to further infections due to an improper functioning immune system. It is imperative to reestablish good or friendly bacteria back in the gut to have a properly immune function. Also, these good bacteria aid us in our digestive process as well. Without them there are many foods that we cannot properly digest, so we don't get the 'good' out of what we eat.

Next we have the overuse of antibiotics in the food supply. It is common practice to feed animals antibiotics to encourage faster growth and keep down infections due to overcrowding. This is why it is important to buy meats that are marked "grown without antibiotics". These antibiotics, even in trace amounts, can destroy our 'good' bacteria and adversely effect our immune system.

Now we come to the hygiene hypothesis. what is meant here is that we are to paranoid about cleanliness, use too many hand sanitizers, etc., and therefore do not get any beneficial microbes that we normally would. Now, for sure, we are not advocating not ever washing hands, etc. That would be folly that would not be beneficial. Lots of 'bad' or pathogenic organisms can be passed into our bodies without proper cleaning in the kitchen when preparing meats, etc. This is a normal pathway for beneficial bacteria to enter our bodies, via foods that we eat.

As I stated there is increased activity in this area and much research is emerging that point to the many benefits of proper microbes content in our guts. This is why alternative practitioners have advocated taking a probiotic formula, one with diverse content, to maintain proper immune function and overall health for many years. Now it is coming to the mainstream and hopefully more will take advantage of this new knowledge and increase their health one step at a time.

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