Who would have thought some of our best friends would be the 100 Trillion bacteria living in, and on, our bodies?
Results of the Human Microbiome Project have caused us to re-examine the critical balance between these good bacteria, essential for human life, and the relatively few bad guys on which we've waged an all-out blitz! Modern life has been altering that delicate balance in ways that have led to an increase in obesity, inflammatory disease and other chronic illnesses. In fact, it's made us sicker.
Antibacterial products became ubiquitous in the past decade. We've turned into 'germophobes' carrying around tiny containers of sanitizers, demanding antibiotics for every little cough or ache and 'sanitizing' every surface in our homes and schools. Our meat sources are routinely raised using antibiotics to promote rapid growth. The results of this desire to purge the bad guys has resulted in altering the good guys - about two pounds if gathered together - that live and work with our bodies other systems to perform vital functions. We've killed off the bacteria that are in fact essential to human life.
I'll spare you most of the 'yuck' factor here, although you can read for yourself how doctors are treating tough antibiotic-resistant infections in new ways by restoring the delicate balance of our bodies natural ecosystem.
In exchange for raw materials and shelter, the microbes that live in and on people feed and protect their hosts, and are thus integral to that host's well-being. Neither wishes the other harm. (The Economist 8/18/12)
This balance becomes more crucial as we age and our bodies defenses begin to break down. What we eat becomes even more important in helping maintain a healthy 'gut microbiome', helping us fight against several chronic conditions, including obesity and inflammatory disease.
So what can we do to keep our microbiome healthy:
- resist asking for or taking antibiotics for conditions they cannot cure, or just to 'be on the safe side',
- avoid using soaps, sanitizers and other products containing triclosan; washing properly with soap and water is MORE effective
- look for organic or natural products grown or processed without antibiotics, including dairy, meat and eggs
- take a walk in nature - the fresh air and natural flora and fauna in nature can help boost our internal ecosystems.
We are so fortunate to live in this time of unprecedented scientific discovery and understanding of the human body. The more we understand and take care of our internal ecosystems, the longer we'll have to enjoy our Earth's.
photo by SNarvasa on Flickr