The role of bacteria in our lives
Bacteria has been a hot topic in recent years - some say our health depends on cultivating it, others say our health depends on killing it.
We are constantly bombarded with messages in the press and advertising extolling the importance of both good and bad bacteria in our lives, for better or worse. But what should we believe in this jungle of propaganda?
The truth about 'good' bacteria
There is actually much truth to the claims that good bacteria, or probiotics, promote good health. Probiotics are defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “Living micro-organisms that provide a health benefit to the host when ingested in adequate amounts.”
In fact, the word 'probiotic' means 'for life.' Statistics show that probiotics are essential for maintenance of a healthy bowel and heart as well as adequate energy levels, but the reality is much greater than statistics can show. Without a sufficient population, your health can suffer in many ways, from mildly annoying to life-threatening.
Many types of beneficial bacteria are necessary to keep the body functioning. Among this plethora of probiotics, lactobacillus acidophilus (Latin for 'acid-loving milk bacterium') is one the most popularly known, but is only one of a multitude of related life-forms necessary for health.
Lacto-bacteria is naturally occurring in the bowels of all living beings, humans and animals alike. It can also be found in certain fermented foods, such as yoghurt and sour crout.
Give and take
However, the wellspring of lacto-bacteria is not in the body or in food - it is in the soil from whence we came!
Our relationship to lacto-bacteria started more than 2.5 billion years ago, at a time when all life on the planet was microscopic. At this time, many important symbiotic relationships were formed between various types of organisms. A mutual 'give and take' union was established that enabled life forms to grow, thrive and evolve.
As one organism gave off its metabolic wastes, another gradually found a way to utilize them, turning wastes into foods. If they both found ways to use each others excesses then a cycle of nourishment began, which in time developed into a strong synergy between these organisms.
At some point in our lineage’s evolution, we turned ourselves inside out, and encapsulated the bacteria. While the symbiotic relationship still remains, with the bacteria living inside of us, we have become designed to consume foods that encourage this lacto-bacteria to thrive in the gut, and they, in turn, feed us. We also produce many sugars specifically to feed the good guys in the bowel.
This same partnership is also found in the plant world, with the plants producing the same type of sugars to feed the friendly bacteria in the soil. They are pumped into the soil to aid specific bacteria, which in turn feeds the plant. Thus, plants 'garden' in the soil the same way that humans garden the bowel.
Bacteria within and without
The ancient partnership between humans and bacteria exists to this day. Approximately 90 percent of the cells that make up the human body contain no human genome – they are foreign microbes, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses. Therefore, around 90 percent of you is not actually you.
Our relationship with bacteria is so fundamental that our bodies would literally not exist without them. Bacteria surrounds us - within and without. We are comprised mostly of bacteria, as well as living in a soup of bacteria. Our skin is simply a container to hold the myriad of bacteria within our bodies and a barrier against the sea of bacteria we live in. Thus the immune system’s job is to balance the accounts and keep things in check, rather than to ‘defend’ us from foreign invaders.
It is therefore strange that we have come to think of bacteria as the enemy when actually there exists a wonderful harmony - a symbiosis between us. It is a union as old as time itself.
Why are we deficient?
There is an interesting analogy going about that if you sterilize a cow and put it in a field of grass it would starve to death.
The is simply to illustrate the importance of the bowel flora. There are so many links on the chain of events that turn grass into cow, that if any links are missing, the chain does not work, and only bacteria can perform many of those links.
However, the reality is that the bacteria present on the grass would quickly re-inhabit the cow, completeing the chain, and thus enabling digestion. The key to healthy bacterial balance for the cow is a constant supply of these good bacteria along with the food they love – and they, in turn feed the cow. And it is the same with humans.
We no longer eat sufficient amounts of raw fruits and vegetables - the prime source of lactobacillus for humans. Eating a diet of mainly cooked and processed foods breeds detrimental bacteria, destroying nutrients essential to our health and compromising the immune system. In a desperate attempt to aid our weakened immune systems we have therefore begun sterilizing everything around us.
Dying to be clean
In recent years we have become obsessed with external cleanliness and disinfection.
The anti-bacterial industry has gone through the roof in recent years by convincing us that we need products that 'kill 99.9% of all germs and bacteria.'
The need for cleanliness has it roots in the time when disease ran rampant in big cities. With open sewers and ignorance concerning sanitation, those without tip top immune systems were bound to suffer. As a step towards (what we call) civilisation, we learned to manage our waste efficiently, and epic diseases disappeared.
But we have never noticed that many other animals live in waste-filled environments quite happily without requiring toxic waste management techniques. This is because no other animal produces toxic waste. Only human waste is toxic! The reason for that all other animals’ bowels are populated by the appropriate bacteria – thus, their body’s are healthy and their immune systems are fully functional.
Because the content of our bowels are toxic, the body is unhealthy, and the immune system is weakened trying to balance the accounts. We add to this shocking state of affairs trying to control the external environment with the use of modern sanitizers, which are –in their very natural – anti-bacterial and highly toxic.
Around and Around we go
We sanitise to kill 'germs' and to save our lives in the short term, but only end up weakening our systems by eliminating the very organisms meant to ensure our health, thus killing us in the long term.
We have therefore created a monster: It is now necessary to sterilise our external environment in order to protect our internal environment. We are gradually destroying our inner flora with anti-bacterials and our systems are no longer able to fend for themselves. Our addiction to anti-bacterial sanitisers has now become global. Few people realize that the use of these highly poisonous sterilising solutions is actually destroying our health instead of protecting it.
We can bring the whole situation back into balance slowly using adequate amounts of probiotics, fermented foods, and lashings of pre-biotics (foods that good bacteria love), but this is a massive shift for most people – so consumed are they by the current healthy eating plans involving endless amounts of grains and beans, refined sugars, endless animal proteins, and corrupted fats.
Whereas the answer is a simple as it has always been:
- You are feeding bacteria that has existed in primates since before humans existed.
- They have required their primates-partners eat the same foods as before.
- They have produced the same nutrients to their primate partners as always.
- I wonder if you can guess what those foods are - Yep. Fruits and leaves. Again !