Bugs in Your Body

You’re only one-tenth the person you think you are. The vast majority of the cells that make up your body are not human. You thought your body was your own, eh? You think you’re one hundred percent human, right? Oh, sure, every once in a while a minor bacterial or viral species may cause a problem but you just attack that population with antibiotics, antivirals or some immune system booster and it’s back to business as usual.

The laughable reality is that you don’t own your body if you simply go by population numbers. If squatters’ rights existed, your body would be the property of the hundred trillion foreign cells that make up the physical terrain known as you. The fact is that the human cells that comprise your body — brain cells, organ cells, nerve cells, blood cells, muscle cells, anything human — are outnumbered ten-to-one by bacteria, parasites, fungi and other interlopers. Your body is awash with an overwhelming army of creepy-crawlers that covers you from head to toe, mouth to… ahem.

“I caught a bug.” How often have those words been used to explain an absence from work? The fact is, you haven’t caught a bug — you’ve caught trillions of them!

The total number of cells in an adult human body is over 100 trillion. A recent cellular census finds that only about 10 percent of the cells to be of human origin. Conversely, about 90 percent of the cells that comprise your body are non-human. We are mostly made of microbes.

Though there are non-human cells all throughout the body, most of the non-human cells that make up the human body live in the gut and are both friendly and unfriendly bacteria. Intestinal flora is the population of organisms that lives in our 28 or so feet of intestines. It’s mostly bacteria but also some protozoa and fungi.

The friendly ones are important. The friendly intestinal flora has a number of important roles in our physiology and we couldn’t really get along well without our beneficial bugs.

Immune system support Intestinal flora supports and trains the immune system. Babies are born with no bacteria in the intestine and one of the first important things to happen is that friendly bacteria are introduced into their system. That’s one of the benefits of breastfeeding. The mother’s colostrum virtually inoculates the baby’s immune system while bacteria introduced by close contact with the mother’s skin provides a kick-start for the infantile immune system. The friendly bacteria help program the infant’s immune system to attack bad bugs but to leave good ones alone. The positive influence on the immune system continues throughout a healthy life.

Nutrition from bugs The bacterial population of the intestines produces nutrients such as biotin, folate and vitamin K. Intestinal microbes facilitate digestion and break down foods that the human intestine ordinarily could not handle. Many intestinal bacteria provide enzymes to metabolize foods and help us absorb dietary minerals.

Healthy bugs mean a healthy gut. Intestinal flora protects the lining of the intestines, both large and small. By displacing populations of more toxic yeast or bacteria, the helpful ones keep pathogens from gaining a toehold in the intestinal mucosa. A healthy population of good guys helps keep the bad guys at bay. There is some indication that healthy beneficial microbes help the cell wall of the intestine from developing cancers by affecting localized immune system response and controlling the differentiation of the mucosal cells.

There is also evidence that having a healthy population of intestinal microbes can help prevent problems like Crohn’s Disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Other researchers have found that native gut flora is important in preventing the development of allergies, symptoms that are increasing rapidly in the American population.

Antibiotics are antihuman. If our bodies are mostly (90 percent) bacteria and microbes, our efforts to kill them off is suicide. Humans obviously fail to understand this, considering the massive attack we make on deleting each and every living thing around us. We are obsessed with maintaining a sterile environment, based on our continuous use of antibacterial soap, sprays, wipes and drugs. We even buy trousers and toys that are made with chemically prepared antimicrobial fabric. Furniture and phones tout “antibacterial” surfaces.

While the judicious use of powerful antibiotics in extreme cases can be assumed to save lives, overuse of antibiotics is costing us in disease and death while altering the evolution of pathogenic bacterial species. We’ve dimwittedly managed to produce chemicals and antibiotics that have evolutionarily selected for survivability and created strains of supermicrobes that threaten to be the deadliest in existence.

Enter the perfect Petri dish. Just as in a lab experiment, microbes rely on their nutrient substrate. In the case of the human body, our food choices provide the food our flora depends on. And as with a Petri dish, whatever we make available will tend to favor the bugs and bacteria that like that particular food.

So, who likes sugar? We certainly eat enough of it. Who prefers alcohol? We can survey the hundred trillion microbes in our body to find out what each species likes or just see who prospers and proliferates under certain dietary choices. In this way we bear influence on the population within.

When our nutrition gets out of balance, our internal population gets out of balance. Bacteria that thrive in an acidic environment can be affected by food that we eat that balances the pH of the body toward acidic. The bacteria in our body can change from friend to foe based on what we feed them.

Occupy Wall Street? Forget about it. Our real, immediate challenge is the horde that occupies our body. Unless we keep them happy and harmonious, the consequences are dire. Probiotics, kind of the opposite of antibiotics, can help. Probably the most natural way to introduce friendly bacteria is by eating the right foods. The Weston A. Price Foundation, easily googled, has advice about fermented foods.

Be well.

Heartland Healing examines various alternative forms of healing. It is provided as a source of information, not as medical advice. It is not an endorsement of any particular therapy, either by the writer or The Reader. Access past columns at www.HeartlandHealing.com

posted at 05:06 pm
on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

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