What if we need to take care of our beneficial intestinal bacteria (flora) as if they are pets? That we need to inoculate ourselves with them regularly, feed them properly and avoid things that harm them. What if we treat ourselves as mini-ecosystems and focus not on sterilization but instead on inoculation to maintain our health? Perhaps even some of the modern day illnesses such as autism, Asperger’s, ADD/ADHD, asthma or eczema could be moderated or cured by living symbiotically with these bugs.
Why is that?
While the image of humans as walking Petri dishes is far from romantic, the fact that there are more bacteria in our intestines than cells in our bodies speaks to the importance these little creatures have on how we function. We have evolved with these bacteria for the past several million years and we wouldn’t survive without them. Like many things in natural medicine, this is not so much a new discovery as a re-emergence of something which has been occurring throughout history. Over the past century, our collective flora has been disrupted by increased consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates, and then made even worse by the overuse of antibiotics. But at this point in history, our culture has begun to move past the war on bugs and has even started to embrace them.
For evidence of this, look no further than probiotic enhanced yogurt in TV commercials. Yes, keep your bugs healthy and happy and they will reward you.
I’m going to propose that many “modern” diets (Atkins, Paleolithic, Specific Carbohydrate, or just plain low-carb) improve the intestinal environment for our little friends.
While weight loss is typically the reason behind these dietary changes, they all include limiting the consumption of simple sugars which feed our flora and increasing beneficial fats instead.
Some dietary sugars or fiber is necessary, but the overabundance of sugars and simple carbohydrates in the Standard American Diet (SAD) allows both good and bad bugs to flourish in our digestive tract.
Many of the dominant flora have a positive influence on our health, but other species which are only supposed to exist in small amounts will, given the opportunity, multiply and become intestinal bullies.
But autism and attention deficit disorder – how are those related to our buggy friends? We have come to realize that these little critters influence such diverse things as intestinal health, tolerance to allergens and even immune system stimulation. Naturopathic medicine has long addressed food allergies, but what we have come to see is that sometimes intestinal dysbiosis (growth of bad bacteria) can make these food allergies worse or the bacteria can produce toxins which we react to directly. When our intestines are inflamed and unhappy, the incidence or degree of food allergies increases.
And many modern diseases such as autism, ADD, eczema, auto-immune conditions and asthma have been shown to sometimes be caused by, or contributed to, by food allergies.
Easy ways to address the balance of our digestive flora include limiting dietary sugars and simple carbohydrates, and limiting antibiotic use when possible.
In addition to this, incorporating fermented foods (with “live active cultures”) and/or taking probiotics are good ways to make sure that our protective petri dishes continue to nourish us into the future.
Should we continue to use antibiotics? – Of course, when needed. Were the “superbugs” created by us from the overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock? – Again, yes.
The point is that being healthy and staying healthy requires both the propagation of good bugs as well as the avoidance of bad ones.
We need regular ingestion of good bugs, and we need to do what we can to make it less hospitable for the bad bugs.
The bacteria which have evolved with us for millions of years and lived in our bodies long before the agricultural revolution will be just fine with our new diet.
For an assessment of your intestinal health and to reestablish a positive relationship with YOUR bugs, contact Health Moves.
Dr. Kraft is a Naturopathic Doctor and licensed Acupuncturist. He may be reached at: Health Moves, 17311 135th Ave NE Ste. C-800, Woodinville, WA 98072. Phone: 425.402.9999 or www.HealthMoves.org.