What comes to mind when you see that word? Do you feel grossed out? Nauseous? Disgusted? Are you reaching for the nearest spray can of Lysol and/or bottle of hand sanitizer?
Hold on just a minute. Is there a chance we have been too quick to judge? Is it possible we have unfairly lumped all bacteria together in the “icky and bad” category? Yes, it is very possible, let me show you why.
Now how did you feel just then? You have probably heard this hot topic term tossed around the Health & Diet community recently, maybe promoting a supplement or cultured yogurt? Well these probiotics are…drumroll please…bacteria! These bacteria are often referred to endearingly as “bugs” by the science community because of their small and relatively simple design.
Breaking it down:
Pro – positive
Biotic – living thing
Micro – microscopic, invisible to the naked eye
Biome – living community
Scientists speculate that our own mitochondria (yes, that mitochondria, everybody say it together now – “the powerhouse of the cell”) were once bacteria that cohabited our bodies. This symbiotic relationship was so wonderful that over time we took our relationship to the next level and asked them to move in – permanently. This just goes to show what a powerfully beneficial role bacteria can play in our overall health. (Source)
There are a few questions you should be asking yourself (and that I will be answering) to help you better understand this community of microorganisms inside you:
Good bacteria vs. Bad bacteria?
It is true, there are plenty of bacteria that you do not want to find yourself alone in a dark alley with. Bacteria such as Botulism, Tetanus, and Tuberculosis, for example, can pose a serious threat to your health. These bacteria may result from improper food handling (click here to check out my blog over general food safety practices in the kitchen)
There are other bacteria like Staph and E. Coli that make us shudder at the mention of their name, but in reality we live with these bacteria inside of us everyday (Source). The problem comes when these bacteria grow out of balance, but having a good amount of positive bacteria will keep these in check (more on this later).
Where are they?
I don’t mean to alarm you but They. Are. Everywhere. Recent studies have even shown that bacteria are believed to live on the eyes. You are quite possibly reading this through a film of bacteria right now! In addition to living on the skin, bacteria love dark, warm, moist environments. Among others, bacterial communities colonize in the oral, gastrointestinal, and urogenital areas. These are a few of the communities that may cause the most noticeable changes when they are out of balance.
How important are they?
Bacteria cells outnumber your body cells 10 to 1! Quantitatively speaking, you are much more bacteria than you are human being. They’re much smaller than body cells so this does not seem like a significant amount, but keep in mind that for the average adult gastrointestinal bacteria accounts for 2 to 3 pounds of weight. Up to 80% of the immune system resides in the gut so it is vitally important to keep it populated with the right kind of bacteria that will serve to protect it (Source). Bi-products of these bacteria affect not only digestion but hormonal and chemical reactions all over the body and researchers are beginning to prove time and time again what a monumental impact the microbiome has on mental health.
Common symptoms of poor microbiome health
Look out for these symptoms especially after a round of antibiotics
(Consult a doctor for any medical issues first to rule out other causes of sickness)
- Poor digestion
- Chronic fatigue
- Poor attention
- White coating on the tongue (see photo below)
- Recurrent vaginal yeast or bacterial infections
Things that threaten it
- High sugar diet
- Low fiber diet
- Over-using antibioticsNote: When in doubt, it is better to be safe than sorry. If it is a matter of convenience over health and you know your body could handle the sickness but you are wanting to speed it up, I would encourage you to reconsider the antibiotics as they will have long lasting effects on your body’s entire bacterial ecosystem. However, it is always better to be safe and listen to the advice of your medical practitioner on when antibiotics are necessary.
How to build it up
- Fruits & vegetables!
- Good sleep habits
- Probiotic food
How to get probiotics into your diet
- Kimchi (spicy!)
- Probiotic supplements
Recommended to get from a food source first!
How to feed your probiotics
Remember, they’re living things and like us, they have to eat! [These are called “Prebiotics“]
- High fiber
- Good fats
- Avoid processed, refined foods
- Encourage kids to be open about their bodily functions with you so that you can properly monitor when something may be abnormal