Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Your germs and you!

Published:Tuesday | March 8, 2016 | 3:00 AM

With the seemingly unending list of new infectious diseases, many people have developed a great fear of germs. Health authorities spend a lot of time and resources waging wars and campaigns against these hostile foes. I think we need to rethink these strategies. Germs may actually promote health.

In 2010, researchers discovered an amazing organ that doctors had failed to recognise before. They realised that the human body is crawling with hundreds of trillions of microorganisms, mainly bacteria plus fungi, viruses and parasites. It is estimated that for every single human cell in your squeaky clean body, there are at least 10 bacteria in residence. This collection of organisms living outside and inside your physical structure is an actual organ, a functioning system called the microbiome.

Research shows that the body is a delicate ecosystem, and that germs are essential for its healthy function. Your intestines, for example, are populated by immense numbers of friendly and not-so-friendly bacteria that work together to promote health. At any given moment, you have over two pounds of germs in your colon and a single bowel movement contains more bacteria than there are stars in the known universe.

But the microbiome is not only the germs in your gut. It is all over your body and is responsible for the development and function of other organs and systems, including the brain and the immune system. It even influences our behaviour and intellectual function. Researcher Dr Marco Ruggiero wrote a book about the microbiome and called it the third brain.

 

digestive health

 

The right balance of germs is vital to good digestive function. Many common stomach and digestive disorders are related to an imbalance between the good and the bad germs in the intestines: gas, bloating, indigestion, acid reflux, stomach ulcers, gastritis, enteritis, diverticular disease, the irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, colitis and even colon cancer to name a few. They also facilitate digestion by producing additional digestive enzymes and by keeping the intestinal membranes clean and healthy.

Intestinal bacteria manu-facture vitamin A, vitamin K, and several B vitamins, including vitamin B12. Vitamin A promotes good vision, healthy skin and a strong immune system. Vitamin K assists blood clotting, bone formation and cancer prevention. The B vitamins combat physical and mental stress and aid good circulation and heart function.

 

Protects against infection

 

New research suggests that when the microbiome is damaged by the abuse of antibiotics and poor diets, our resistance to the germs causing these modern epidemics is weakened. Healthy bugs are well known to control troublesome germs like the yeast/fungus Candida. They help prevent food poisoning by producing natural antibiotics to control other harmful germs like salmonella. Good germs also suppress another bad bug - helicobacter pylori, the bacterium held responsible for causing stomach ulcers, gastritis and possibly stomach cancers

Our good germs promote a healthy immune system in several ways, thus reducing allergies and inflammation. They limit the growth of other bacteria that produce cancer-causing chemicals called nitrates. They even remove carcinogens like pesticides that are now common contaminants in our food. Recently, researchers have even shown that healthy bacteria encourage a reduction in excess body fat.

 

We share our germs

 

We share our microbiome with each other. Research has shown a greater similarity of germs in individuals who have been intimate. In experiments for bacterial transfer, a kiss was shown to transfer about 80 million bacteria between partners during an intimate kiss lasting 10 seconds, so kiss wisely.

 

Eat right

 

Eating lots of high-fibre foods like fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains create a healthy intestinal environment for the good bacteria because of their high fibre, vitamin and mineral content. Eating more raw, uncooked foods can improve your microbiome. Avoid chemical food preservatives as they may destroy the good bacteria. Minimise the consumption of sugar, refined flour products and alcohol, as disease-causing bacteria and fungi feed on refined sugar.

 

Use prebiotics

 

Prebiotics are substances that encourage the growth of friendly bacteria. They include dietary fibre that the bacteria feed on, fructoligosaccharides (FOS), and acemannin - a special substance found in aloe vera. Green tea has also has a prebiotic effect.

 

Take probiotics

 

Two particularly useful species of healthy bacteria are Lactobacillus acidophilus (acidophilus) and Bifidobacterium (bifidus). They are called probiotics (meaning for life) in contradistinction to antibiotics, which literally means against life. They are found in fermented foods like natural yogurt, tempeh, miso and sauerkraut. Probiotic supplements can also be used to provide additional healthy bacteria to your diet. A single probiotic tablet or capsule contains millions of friendly bacteria.

 

Be careful with antibiotics

 

Although antibiotics are powerful tools when properly used, their reckless abuse worldwide has led to the emergence of terrible and dangerous antibiotic-resistant super-germs. The improper use of antibiotics also damages our microbiome, a problem called dysbiosis. So take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.

n You may email

Dr Vendryes at tonyvendryes@gmail.com

or listen to 'An Ounce

of Prevention' on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his books and articles are available at www.tonyvendryes.com.