NOTE: This blog post was taken from Need to Know: How to Arm Yourself and Survive on the Healthcare Battlefield (2018) by Darwin Hale, COL (RET), USAR, the Founder & CEO of Advocate Health Advisors. Darwin is a respected entrepreneur, author and decorated military officer with more than 30 years’ experience in the corporate world to include serving in the United States Army and Army Reserve (USAR).
Growing up, most of us got the idea that bacteria are bad things. We were told to wash our hands before eating, after using the restroom or touching objects that other people had handled. After all, that telephone or shopping cart might have deadly “germs” on it.
It is true that some bacteria are harmful. Names like “staph” or “strep” correctly make us think of sore throats or fevers. However, only a small percentage of all bacteria are pathogens, microbes that cause disease. The US National Library of Medicine has this to say-
“Most bacteria won’t hurt you – less than 1 percent of the different types make people sick. Many are helpful. Some bacteria help to digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and give the body needed vitamins. Bacteria are also used in making healthy foods like yogurt and cheese.”
The truth is that humans coexist in a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship with many types of bacteria. We provide a nice, warm home for them, and bacteria often do very important work for us. If most bacteria were disease-causing pathogens, they would have killed off humanity long ago.
The “human microbiome”
The bacteria and other microorganisms living in your body make up what biologists call the “human microbiome.” Estimates vary about how many of these tiny organisms exist within the human body, but most scientists agree that there are just as many bacterial cells in your body as there are your own cells, maybe many more. Think about that: numerically speaking, there are more of these other living things in your body than there is of you.
Humans are nurtured bacteria-free in the womb, but they begin picking up bacteria even as they pass through the birth canal. These bacteria begin colonizing newborns immediately and go to work in that symbiotic relationship described above. This could explain why babies born by caesarean section are more likely to develop allergies, chronic inflammatory diseases and metabolic diseases. The immune systems of these children may be set on a different path right from birth. (ScienceDaily, Nov 30, 2018)
Think about this, and you will realize that you are carrying the DNA of thousands of microorganisms as well as that inherited from your parents. The complex interactions of these factors are part of the epigenetic environment that determines your health status. The bacteria in your body play a key role in sustaining good health; that microbiome does incredibly powerful things for you. Every person can be thought of as a “superorganism,” a kind of human-microbe hybrid.
The role of microbes and diet in personal health
In 2008, the National Institutes of Health launched the Human Microbiome Project to research the human microbiome and explore its role in human health and disease. This project is part of a global effort to identify at least 600 types of bacteria, fungi, and yeast that we humans carry throughout life. The goal is to discover how microbes differ in various parts of the body and how changes in their composition may be associated with diseases.
Diet, an epigenetic influence, is an extremely important factor in causing these changes. Most of the microbes in humans live in the digestive system. They eat what we eat, so changing our diets may have a big impact on our microbial mix. A diet high in vegetable fiber will promote certain types of bacteria while sugar-rich diets will help others flourish.
One groundbreaking theory is that if you can understand a person’s individual microbiome, then you can use that to fight disease. Tools to fight disease and aging may already be inside our bodies. This possibility is exciting and hints at a brighter, healthier future.
While the news of just how many microbes live with you might be surprising, you’re probably familiar with the benefits of introducing live bacteria into your body. Most people know (through advertising) that yogurt is a “probiotic,” meaning it has beneficial bacteria that colonize your gut. Seeking to leverage this fact, food manufacturers have heavily advertised the assumed benefits of various yogurt brands.
There is a caveat here. Some types of yogurt contain very high amounts of sugar, even cookie crumbs or chocolate bits. This probably does not promote the growth of desirable gut bacteria. Some brands of yogurt will feature a “Live & Active Cultures” seal from the National Yogurt Association. Yes, there is an association of yogurt makers. Live, active cultures are probably the probiotic bacteria that you want.
If you have any doubt about which yogurt is best for you, consult a knowledgeable, trusted third party such as the US Department of Agriculture’s Food Product Information Sheets or the more readable Harvard Health Publishing advice about yogurt and probiotics.
What we now know about the human microbiome is exciting. It offers a glimpse into a world in which humans are not totally reliant on the health care industry to manage their personal health; what they need may already be inside their bodies. Given how broken our health care industry is, that’s a future worth pursuing.
Percent of harmful bacteria- https://medlineplus.gov/bacterialinfections.html
Infectious agents and how they cause disease- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27114/
Altered microbiome after caesarean section impacts baby’s immune system- https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181130094328.htm
Cannot find the primary source of the quote- “The more we learn about the human microbiome—the trillions of single-celled organisms that colonize our skin, nose, digestive system…—the more we realize that the microscopic critters that live on us and in us may be as important to our health as our body cells.”
Choosing a healthy yogurt- https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/your-complete-guide-to-choosing-a-yogurt-to-meet-your-needs