By Gladys Kublic, owner of Neighbors Vitamin Shop
The January issue of National Geographic had an interesting article about the invisible world which surrounds us and invades us, the Small, Small World of microbes. Microbes include bacteria and viruses which are present in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the earth we walk on and the body we inhabit. We often think of microbes as pathogens, the agents of disease such as SARS, influenza and tuberculosis, but most microbes do us little or no harm, and some are beneficial to the point of being essential for our life. Advances in science, most recently DNA sequencing allow for the study of whole populations of microbes in a given environment.
An interesting environment for microbes discussed in the article is the human body. It hosts many communities of bacteria in the nose, on the skin, the scalp, the mouth and the internal systems of the body. “All told, the microbes in the body outnumber our own cells by ten to one and can weigh as much or more than our brain – about three pounds for the average adult. Each of us is thus both an organism and a densely populated ecosystem, with habitats harboring species as different from one another as the animals in a jungle and a desert.” NG 01/2013
Many of these inhabitants of our bodies are good for us; they help digest our food and absorb nutrients, manufacture vital vitamins and anti –inflammatory proteins, strengthen our immune system and even moisturize our skin to protect us from harmful microbial intruders. We are first exposed to these good bacteria when we pass through the birth canal where we pick up Lactobacillus johnsonii, which enables us to digest milk. In fact, studies have found that C-section babies have fewer lactobacillus bacteria and more potentially harmful microbes picked up from adult skin.
Our current response to infection is to blast the system with antibiotics which kill both the good and the bad bacteria in our systems. This can result in diarrhea in children and a wide range of digestive troubles in adults. Repeated use of antibiotics over time disrupts the delicate balance of our resident species of microbes, causing long term health issues. Not to mention the increasing problem of antibiotic resistant bugs which develop with widespread broad spectrum use of these drugs.
Our fear of pathogens leads us to use antiseptic soaps, harsh chemical cleaners, whitening, brightening laundry detergents and then softening agents with heavy fragrances to mask the chemical smells. The first result of this behavior is disruption of the skin’s micro biome, we kill the bacteria which help moisturize our skin, so we slather on chemical laced creams and lotions in an attempt to moisturize. This creates a rebound effect which often ends in chronic skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or dermatitis.
It seems that what was old has become new again. In ancient China a doctor was considered to have failed if his patient became ill. The philosophy was to support the body in all ways to maintain good health. In the National Geographic article the case is made for again supporting the whole population of our resident bacteria to achieve balance and health through balance.
The first and easiest way to achieve some balance is to use only soaps, detergents and cleaners made from natural non chemical ingredients. You’ll find that if you wash your laundry with pure natural detergents, you don’t need fabric softener to counteract the harsh residue left by commercial detergents. Natural soaps and shampoos are gentle and solve many skin and scalp problems by allowing the beneficial bacteria to repopulate these areas.
Secondly, we should try to maintain balance internally. Although antibiotics are important and even life saving medicines, they should be used as sparingly as possible and followed by a multi strain probiotic to replenish the lactobacillus bacteria in the digestive tract. Many people find that taking probiotics on a regular basis helps control the symptoms of many chronic digestive ailments and improves their immune system.
It will be interesting to find what new explorations in microbiology uncover – the old adage “You are what you eat” might be changed to “You are whatever kind of micro biome you nourish within you”. (Too wordy – it’ll never catch on.)