Our culture has taught us to be afraid of bacteria. We believe that our bodies are sterile and bacteria invade and attack, making us sick. If you stopped an average soccer mom on the street and told her that there are trillions of bacteria in her guts, she would probably freak out and run for the antibiotics. What she doesn’t understand is there are good kinds of bacteria. We need this bacteria. If our intestines we’re truly sterile, we would most surely die.
Bacteria are on our skin. Some cause body odor, some manufacture vitamin D when we get sunshine. Bacteria line the membranes of our mouth, nose, ears, eyes, and mouth. These bacteria are the first line of defence against foreign invaders. There are actually more cells in your gut flora than in your body. This collection of bacteria, yeasts, viruses, worms, and other single celled organisms is more unique than any fingerprint or any retinal scan could possibly be.
The makeup of this flora is constantly changing. The food you eat, the chemicals you’re exposed to, and any drugs or medication you take will affect it. When I was a teenager, I found out that the more sugar I ate, the more acne I got. If I went easy on sugar for a week, my acne cleared up. No medicine or creams required.
Bacteria is Good for You
Since the advent of germ theory, mankind has feared bacteria. Antibiotics, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, these have become commonplace. Modern families endeavour to live without bacteria. But this is a fallacy. We cannot live without bacteria. Nor can we live without beneficial yeasts, viruses, and other microbes.
Your body uses this gut flora to digest food. They are the ones who break down your food into usable constituents, not your stomach, not your intestines. Your digestive system is merely a place for them to live. Your gut flora assists in the assimilation of nutrients. They create nutrients from your food. They manufacture vitamins for your body to use between meals.
There is a world war going on inside and outside your body every day. Good bugs fighting bad bugs. Bacteria fighting bacteria. Yeast fighting yeast. Viruses fighting viruses. The largest part of your immune system is in your gut. No it’s not a bunch of white blood cells, it’s bacteria, yeast, viruses, and many other single celled organisms. A healthy body has up to six pounds of beneficial flora in the gut.
In addition to protecting us from infections, healthy gut flora protect us from toxins and carcinogens. They do this by either neutralizing them or grabbing onto them. Our stools are up to 90% bacteria. When they are eliminated, they take these toxins out with them.
A study done in 2007 looked at two groups of animals. One group was given antibiotics, while the other was the control. They were given large amounts of organic mercury in their food and water. In the group that we’re not given antibiotics, who had healthy robust gut flora, only 1% of that mercury got into the body from the digestive tract. In the group treated with antibiotics, which wiped out the gut flora, over 90% of the mercury got into their bodies, blood stream, bones, and everywhere else.
Bacteria is Bad for You
Your gut also contains many bad microbes just waiting to take over. These opportunistic microbes are kept in check by your healthy gut flora. When their population is low, these microbes actually serve a good purpose. Only when they get overpopulated do they cause problems.
You can think of these opportunistic microbes as cops and criminals. As long as you have enough cops around, they’ll keep the criminals in check. Like most criminals, opportunistic microbes are waiting to take advantage of the right situation. Most criminals only rob when it’s easy or convenient. That’s why locking your car works. As long as your good gut flora outnumbers the opportunistic ones you’ll be okay.
Modern lifestyles wreak havoc on our beneficial gut flora. Antibiotics are the number one killer of healthy gut bacteria. Whether they come in the form of a prescription or residuals in the meat we consume, they decimate our healthy gut bacteria. Most prescription drugs, contraceptive pills, and chemicals in our food also damage our healthy gut flora.
When our healthy gut bacteria is reduced, the opportunistic microbes begin proliferating, unchecked. This can lead to gut inflammation and leaky gut syndrome, where partially digested food particles enter the bloodstream. These food particles can cause immune system reactions that may get mistaken for food allergies.
When this happens these opportunistic microbes eat our food, convert it into hundreds of toxins that flow into the bloodstream through the damaged gut wall. These chemicals wreak havoc on a person’s body, especially a child’s body.
Is Your Gut Rotting Your Brain?
Perhaps you think this idea is far-fetched. How could our digestive system have anything to do with our brain? They’re so far apart. But is it really that far-fetched? When a doctor prescribes an antidepressant, what does the patient do with it? Do they rub it on their forehead? No. They take it by mouth where it enters the digestive system. Only then does it get absorbed into the bloodstream and affect the brain.
So why should anyone consider it far-fetched that microbes in that same gut might also be excreting chemicals that affect the brain. We already know that bacteria can excrete toxins that rot teeth. Is it possible these chemicals may also be rotting the brain?
“All diseases begin in the gut.” This saying was coined by Hippocrates over 2,000 years ago. Hippocrates is considered the father of modern medicine. Only now are we starting to realize he was right. Probiotics are becoming popular and antibiotics are starting to be seen for what they are. Destroyers of life.
Don’t Feed the Animals
Sugar and carbohydrates are the top foods for opportunistic microbes. Especially yeast. The most common type being the ubiquitous candida species. This is a large family of yeast with about 200 different species known to science so far. Yeast breaks down these carbohydrates into alcohol by means of alcoholic fermentation. The same alcoholic fermentation that beer companies use.
When your digestive system runs out of carbohydrates, your opportunistic microbes start calling for more. Your brain uses hormones and chemicals to regulate thoughts and obsessions about food. Candida, parasites, and other bad microbes have evolved ways to mimic this natural process to trick you into eating more carbohydrates and sugar. However, their influence is only felt when there is an abundance of them.
We’ve all been there. We open the refrigerator and just stare. We don’t know what we want to eat, only that we want to eat something. The reason this is so confusing is simple. We’re not the ones who are hungry, it’s the microbes in our gut that are hungry. They want carbohydrates.
The key to reducing your opportunistic bacteria is to stop feeding it. Reduce your carbohydrate consumption, especially sugar. Processed food contains many carbohydrates, but also chemical flavorings that only pathogenic microbes can benefit from. Our opportunistic microbes do not need the nutrients that healthy food contains. They are perfectly happy to live off junk food.
Repopulate Your Gut Flora
Probiotic supplements are a good place to start. However, you want to be careful what brand you buy. Cheap probiotics contain only contain lactobacilli. Good probiotics contain multiple groups of bacteria. A combination from the three main groups is best: lactobacilli, bifidobacteria, and soil bacteria. Potency is also important. Look for at least 8 billion cells per gram. The more the better.
The probiotic I use is Young Living’s Life 9. It has 17 billion live cultures from 9 beneficial bacteria strains. Another thing to consider is how long do the capsules take to break down. Stomach acid can kill most of the probiotic bacteria. Life 9 uses time release capsules so that the probiotics are not released in the stomach.
Years ago, before refrigeration, people had to be more creative in preserving their food. Lacto-fermentation was one of these methods. Lactic acid is a natural preservative that inhibits putrefying bacteria. You’ve surely heard of sauerkraut, it gets its distinct flavor from the lactic acid produced by the bacteria fermenting the cabbage. When we eat fresh, unpasteurized sauerkraut, the bacteria go into our gut and help us digest food.
Pickles can also be fermented using bacteria. This is generally done with a starter culture. Pickles you buy in the store are pickled with vinegar. There are no beneficial bacteria to be found. Even if there were, they would be killed in the canning process.
Kefir is a cultured milk product. It’s like yogurt on steroids. But kefir is not yogurt. While yogurt may have 7-10 strains of bacteria, kefir frequently has up to fifty. The types of bacteria are different. The bacteria in yogurt pass through the body in 24 hours. The bacteria in kefir stay and take up residence in your gut.
Kombucha is a fermented tea made by the kombucha culture of bacteria and yeast. Kombucha is proof that healthy doesn’t have to taste bad. Properly made kombucha tastes like bubbly apple cider. But don’t let the good taste fool you. In addition to good bacteria, kombucha contains a beneficial yeast that will help fight off bad yeasts, notably candida.
For instructions on how to make all of these, visit Donna Schwenk’s www.culturedfoodlife.com. You can buy kefir grains, kombucha starter, sourdough starter, pickling culture, and books on cultured food.
Feed Your Good Flora
Once you get some good flora, you want it to flourish. One of the best ways is by drinking bone broth. Broth made from bones provides building blocks for the rapidly growing cells of the gut lining. They also have a soothing effect on areas of inflammation. This is why chicken soup is good when you’re sick. You can buy broth from the store, but be careful that it doesn’t have chemical flavors. These will harm your beneficial gut flora more than help it. Watch out for MSG, natural flavorings, or yeast extract.
The best broth is the broth you make yourself. You can buy pasture raised beef or chicken bones from local farms for $2 – $5 a pound. This broth will have many times the nutrients as store bought. You can also add vegetables like onions, garlic, and carrots to add even more nutrients and flavor. A good broth will taste like beef stew or chicken soup.
Vegetables are another important food for us and our gut flora. However, not all vegetables are equal. Most of the sweet, bland, and pale vegetables you find in the produce section have only fractions of the nutrients their predecessors had. One easy thing to look for is color. Darker is usually better. Darker green lettuce. Darker yellow corn. Purple is always better. Purple lettuce, purple carrots, purple corn. The darker colors indicate more nutrients.
The best way to get these vegetables is from local farms. Vegetables do not require very much space to grow. This means that urban farms can sell produce that’s just as healthy as large rural farms. It’s all about how the vegetables are raised. Do they use compost or miracle grow? We’re the vegetables picked within a couple days of being sold? Do they use pesticides or natural ways to deal with pests? Just because a vegetable has some insect damage doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, in japan people seek out produce with holes because that means it’s more natural. If the insects think it’s good, then maybe it is.
Meat is also an important part of your diet. Meat is the best source of protein. Some plants may contain high levels of protein, but our bodies don’t assimilate it well. What’s the point of eating lots of protein if most of it gets wasted?
Pasture raised meat from local farms is ideal. If you cannot afford pasture raised, you can buy meat from the supermarket. Buy raw unprocessed meat from the meat section. Processing eliminates many nutrients and adds chemical flavorings that will harm your beneficial gut flora. Making soups and stews is the best way to eat meat. They are easy to make, just throw the ingredients in a crock pot and let it cook.
Let’s not kid ourselves. If you want to take control of your health, you’re going to have to start cooking. Restaurants use cheap ingredients grown on the same mega farms that supply your local supermarket. They rely on chemical flavorings to make their food taste like the real food it’s impersonating. Restaurants are not concerned with how healthy their food is. They’re concerned with sales. If that means promising healthier food, then they’ll make a few adjustments. But in the end, they’re still using the same cheap food. It’s up to you whether you will continue to support that system.
- Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, 2010 – p. 51-53
- Cultured Food for Life, Donna Schwenk, 2013
- Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride MD, 2010 – p. 145