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Thursday, July 11, 2013


The human body is home to about 100 trillion microbes, bacteria, or organisms. Many of these live on our skin and in our intestines (gut).

A lot of these bacteria are harmless and many are very helpful. Only a tiny number are disease causing germs. Ideally, they live together in a fine balance keeping us healthy and preventing the disease causing bacteria from making us sick.

Researchers at the University of Colorado are learning just how important it may be to our overall health to keep these organisms growing and in balance. A healthy balance means a healthy immune system, which helps to prevent infection, chronic diseases including allergy and asthma, and even cancer.

A baby’s balance of bacteria in its gut begins as it passes through the birth canal.The balance changes with breast feeding and the introduction of food. By age 3, the baby’s gut bacteria is similar to the parents.

The environment we live in influences the balance of the microbes in our bodies. For example, people living on a farm seem to have lower rates of asthma and allergies, possibly because they are exposed to more bacteria in their environment. They may have a greater variety of protective bacteria. People living in the same home tend to have a similar bacterial balance. Exposure to certain animals, such as dogs, sometimes affects the balance in a good way.

Sadly, our bacterial balance is changing because of our diet, lifestyle, antibiotic use, and the cleanliness of our environment. Researchers are starting to think that the increase in chronic diseases such as asthma, may begin in the gut. The bacterial imbalance may affect the health of the lining of the intestines, affecting the immune system.

What are some things we can do to restore or keep our bacterial balance in check?

  • Take antibiotics only when needed.
  • Maintain a healthy diet: by avoiding processed foods, eating more whole grains and complex carbohydrates, eating lots of fruits, raw or lightly cooked vegetables, as well as fermented foods such as kimchi, yoghurt and sauerkraut.
  • Be reasonable about cleanliness. Allow children to get dirty, play with pets and play in the great outdoors. Children need to be in contact with all kinds of germs in our environment in order to develop a healthy immune system.
  • Hug, kiss, and get close to your baby. Smothering them with love AND germs will do them good!

Source: Some of my Best Friends are Germs by Michael Pollan, New York Times, May 2013

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