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Six Tribes of Bacteria Live in Your Inner Elbow

June 14, 2008 | 80,424 views

elbowThe crook of your elbow is a special ecosystem that provides a bountiful home to six tribes of bacteria. Even after you wash, there are still 1 million bacteria living on every square centimeter.

These bacteria are what biologists call commensals, helpful rather than harmful organisms. They moisturize your skin by processing the raw fats that it produces.

The bacteria were discovered as part of the human microbiome project, a study researching all of the various microbes that live in people. The project is in its early stages, but has already established that the bacteria in the human microbiome collectively possess at least 100 times as many genes as the 20,000 or so in the human genome.

The bacterial cells also outnumber human cells by 10 to 1.

Humans depend on their microbiome for essential functions, including digestion, leading microbiologists to conclude that a person should really be considered a superorganism.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

Isn’t it wonderful that your body is its own living ecosystem, teeming with beneficial bacteria?

Well, for some it may prompt you to grab a bar of antibacterial soap and run for the shower, but you couldn’t wash all the bacteria off your body if you tried -- nor would you want to. Unfortunately, modern society is unhealthily obsessed with being “clean,” despite the fact that “commensal,” or beneficial, bacteria play a large role in keeping you alive.

You and Your Bacteria: A Symbiotic Relationship

There are 70 known tribes of commensal bacteria that could be living on your body right now. The word commensal comes from the Latin term “com mensa,” which means “sharing a table.”

Take, for instance, the Nile crocodile and the tiny Egyptian plover bird. The bird flies into the crocodile’s mouth, makes a meal out of the leeches and other debris on its gums, and in turn the croc gets its teeth cleaned. This is a symbiotic relationship at its finest.

Similarly, the bacteria that inhabit your body are serving a great purpose.

Those in your gut, for instance, feed on sugars you eat and convert the hydrogen they produce into methane. The bacteria on your inner elbow, meanwhile, process the raw fats it produces and in turn moisturize your skin.


The Price You Pay for Killing Your Bacteria

There are about 100 trillion microorganisms -- bacteria, fungi and more -- living on and in your body. Despite this magnitude, science is only beginning to unravel their impact on your health.

Most obviously, it’s known that altering the balance of bacteria in your digestive tract can weaken your immune system and cause trouble to your digestive functions. But bacteria have an impact well beyond that. Even the National Institutes of Health cites research showing that “variations in the composition of microbial communities may contribute to chronic health conditions, including diabetes, asthma, obesity and digestive disorders.”

For instance:
How to Nourish Your Body’s Friendly Bacteria

The healthy bacteria that reside on your body are constantly under attack. The biggest offenders?

1. Antibiotics
2. Antibacterial soaps
3. A poor diet, specifically one high in sugar, grains and processed foods

While antibiotics and antibacterial soaps simply kill all the bacteria in and on your body -- both good and bad -- a poor diet actually feeds bad bacteria. Eventually, the disease-causing bacteria will be able to overtake the good bacteria, and this is when disease results.

So, what can you do to keep your body’s ecosystem thriving and, most importantly, in balance?

1. Avoid antibiotics if at all possible. Only take them as a last resort, and when absolutely necessary. If you do take antibiotics, be sure to take a high-quality probiotic supplement upon finishing the treatment to replenish your body’s good bacteria.

2. Avoid antibacterial soaps. They will cause the production of resistant bacterial strains and are toxic. Plain soap and water is all you need.

3. Eat a diet tailored to your nutritional type. This will give you the foods your body (and its bacteria) will thrive on.

4. Avoid sugar and grains, which feed bad bacteria.

5. Eat organic meat and dairy products, as conventional varieties can contain high levels of antibiotic residues.

6. Eat fermented foods like kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut, or, my favorite, natto. These foods are naturally rich in good bacteria that will help to keep your gut bacteria in balance.

7. Take a high-quality probiotic supplement, particularly while you get your diet on the right track.

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