By Dr. Mercola
Your body is loaded with bacteria, of both good and bad varieties. In fact, about 100 trillion bacteria live inside you, which is more than 10 times the number of cells you have in your body! The ideal balance between these bacteria is about 85 percent "good" and 15 percent "bad". This ratio is one of the critical factors determining your health, as the good bacteria are essential for:
- The proper development of your immune system
- Protection against over-growth of other microorganisms that could cause disease
- Digestion of food and absorption of nutrients
- Influencing gene activity and expression
Fascinating Discovery: Bacteria are in Constant Communication with Each Other
In the featured video above, Bonnie Bassler with Princeton New Jersey, explains a radical discovery related to all these bacteria housed within your body.
It turns out that bacteria (both good and bad) have a very sophisticated way of communicating with each other, and once they receive the signal that their numbers are sufficient to carry out their genetic function, they launch into action as a synchronized unit.
This lets them both coordinate their defenses and/or mount attacks—a fact that has stunning implications for medicine. For example, new medicines that interfere with this line of communication between dangerous bacteria could provide a revolutionary new form of antibiotics.
Since bacteria are single-celled organisms, they have only one string of DNA. Hence they contain very few genes, which encode the traits they're supposed to carry out. The way bacteria multiply is by consuming nutrients from their environment, grow to twice their size, and then divide down the middle. We've known for some time that once bacteria reach a critical mass, they can overwhelm your immune system. But no one understood the mechanism behind it, until now...
How Bacteria Communicate
Researchers have discovered that bacteria communicate with each other using a chemical language called "quorum sensing." As it turns out, every type of bacteria make and secrete small molecules. When a bacterium is alone, these molecules simply float away. But when there's a large enough group of bacteria, these secreted molecules increase in proportion to the number of bacteria emitting them. When the molecules reach a certain amount, the bacteria can tell how many neighbors it has, and suddenly all the bacteria begin to act as a synchronized group, based on the group behavior programmed into its genes.
But that's not all. Not only do bacteria communicate in this way between their own species; they're all "multi-lingual," and can determine the presence and strength of other bacterial colonies!
Essentially, they can count how many of its own kind there are compared to the amount of another species. They then use that information to decide what tasks to carry out, depending on who's in a minority and who's in the majority of any given population of bacteria.
This information can have any number of implications for science and medicine. For example, they're already working on a new generation of antibiotics that can jam the sensing mechanism of a specific pathogen rather than killing it. They're also considering creating pro-quorum sensing drugs that can boost the communication between beneficial bacteria to make them operate more efficiently.
Optimizing Your Gut Flora is Crucial for Good Health
There may be far more complexity to this picture than what we're currently seeing. However, the finding is an intriguing one, and may lead to all sorts of new discoveries about how your body works to maintain optimal health. One thing is becoming quite evident however, and that is the importance of optimizing your intestinal flora.
Unfortunately, many are still unaware of the fact that the micro-organisms living in their digestive tracts form a very important "inner ecosystem" that influences countless aspects of health. More specifically, the type and quantity of organisms in your gut interact with your body in ways that can either prevent or encourage the development of many diseases, including mental health problems. This becomes easier to understand once you know that:
- About 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, and
- Your gut quite literally functions as your second brain, as it is created of the same tissue. During fetal development, one part turns into your central nervous system while the other develops into your enteric nervous system. These two systems are connected via the vagus nerve, the tenth cranial nerve that runs from your brain stem down to your abdomen
So truly, your gut flora influences both physiology and psychology. As explained by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride (below), a medical doctor with a postgraduate degree in neurology, toxicity in your gut can flow throughout your body and into your brain, where it can cause symptoms of autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, depression, schizophrenia and other mental disorders. She believes the epidemic of autism and other learning disorders originate in the gut, and manifest as a condition known as Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS).
GAPS can also stand for Gut and Physiology Syndrome, which is the title of her second book, which is currently being written. In both cases, the treatment is identical—"heal and seal" your gut, and continually feed it beneficial bacteria to maintain the ideal ratio of good and bad bacteria.
Why Children's Gut Flora Should Ideally Be Tested within Days of Birth
If your child has the metabolic characteristics of GAPS, they are predisposed to vaccine damage, and should therefore NOT be immunized until it has been reversed. In fact, Dr. Campbell-McBride's book Gut and Psychology Syndrome1 contains an entire chapter outlining what health care professionals need to do to improve the vaccination strategy, because the standard vaccination protocol is bound to damage GAPS babies.
Fortunately, it is possible to identify GAPS within the first weeks of your baby's life, which can help you make better informed decisions about vaccinations, and how to proceed to set your child on the path to a healthy life.
One of the KEY issues is to screen all children BEFORE they are immunized, and if they have the metabolic characteristics of GAPS, they should avoid inoculations until that is reversed. Dr. Campbell describes the entire process in 2, but in summary, the tests involve analyzing a stool sample to determine the state of your baby's gut flora, followed by a urine test to check for metabolites, which can give you a picture of the state of your child's immune system.
These non-invasive tests are available in most laboratories around the world, and typically run around $80-100 each in the US. This is pocket-change compared to the incredible expense of treating an autistic child once the damage is done... If you're pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or know someone who is, I can't recommend Dr. Campbell-McBride's book3 enough. You can also find more information on her website: www.GAPS.me4, and on her blog at www.doctor-natasha.com5.
Is Your Gut Flora Damaged?
Your gut bacteria are very vulnerable to your lifestyle. If you eat a lot of sugar and refined grains for instance, your gut bacteria are going to be compromised because sugar feeds bad bacteria and yeast. Your gut bacteria are also very sensitive to:
✓ Processed foods
✓ Chlorinated/fluoridated drinking water
✓ Antibacterial soap
✓ Agricultural chemicals
It's really no wonder that poor gut health is more the norm than the exception these days, especially in the Western world. The good news though, is that you CAN optimize your bacterial population rather easily, and any damage to your intestines can also be reversed. Dr. Campbell-McBride's GAPS Nutritional Program is designed to heal and restore the integrity and function of your gut lining. I highly recommend it, particularly if you suffer from any form of autoimmunity- and inflammatory disease, such as:
✓ Multiple sclerosis
✓ Type 1 diabetes
✓ Rheumatoid arthritis
✓ Crohn's disease
✓ Ulcerative colitis
✓ Chronic skin conditions
✓ Kidney problems
✓ Urinary conditions
✓ Allergic and atopic conditions
✓ Degenerative conditions
✓ Chronic fatigue syndrome
✓ Myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME)
✓ Inflammatory bowel diseases
Certain Foods Naturally Promote Healthy Gut Flora
Probiotic supplements are widely available, and if you choose a high-quality version, they are very effective in helping to "reseed" your intestinal tract with good bacteria. Though I don't recommend taking excessive amounts of supplements, a high-quality probiotic is one of my exceptions. That said, long before the invention of the probiotic supplement, native peoples benefitted from probiotics by way of cultured or fermented foods, and these are fundamental part of any healthy diet.
Cultured foods like yogurt and fermented vegetables are excellent sources of natural, healthy bacteria, provided they are not pasteurized. The following video features Caroline Barringer, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP), who is an expert in the preparation of the foods prescribed in Dr. Campbell-McBride's GAPS program. Here she discusses the process of fermenting your own vegetables—it's actually much easier than you might think, and taste great too!
Caroline recommends eating about a quarter to a half a cup of fermented vegetables, or cultured food such as raw yoghurt, per day. Kombucha, a fermented drink, is another great addition to your diet. The key is variety. The greater the variety of fermented and cultured foods you include in your diet, the better, as each food will inoculate your gut with a variety of different microorganisms. Examples of fermented and cultured foods include:
✓ Yoghurt/Kefir made from raw milk
✓ Fermented vegetables, such as olives, pickles, sauerkraut and more
✓ Raw milk cheeses made from grass-fed milk
Another oft-forgotten boon of fermented foods is that they are some of the best chelators available. The beneficial bacteria in these foods are very potent detoxifiers, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals from your body. According to Dr. Campbell-McBride, the GAPS Nutritional Protocol restores your own detoxification system in about 90 percent of people, and the fermented/cultured foods are instrumental in this self-healing process. If you eat them on a regular basis (ideally, daily) you will keep your digestive tract well supplied with good bacteria.
There may still be times when a probiotic supplement is necessary, such as when you stray from your healthy diet and consume excess grains or sugar, if you have to take antibiotics, when traveling to foreign countries or when eating at suspicious restaurants. But use the supplement as it's intended -- as a "supplement" to, not a replacement for, cultured foods.
In addition to the wealth of information shared in the interview above, I highly recommend getting the book Gut and Psychology Syndrome, which provides all the necessary details for the GAPS protocol. We were finally able to convince Dr. Campbell-McBride to print it in the U.S., so I now offer it for sale in my store. It saves you a few dollars, compared to ordering it from the U.K..
www.Immunitrition.com is another helpful resource where you can learn more about cultured and fermented foods. If you're so inclined, you can also find information about how to become a Certified Healing Foods Specialist here.
Additionally, if for whatever reason you just don't have the time, effort, energy, ambition, motivation, or discipline to ferment your own foods, but you understand and appreciate the value of them, Caroline has a company that sells them. I used hers for a month before I started making my own. So, if you just want to put your toe in the water and see if you like them, you can order a jar or two and try them out. I feel very strongly that if we can catalyze a movement to get more people to implement this ancient dietary wisdom to their normal eating patterns, then we'll start seeing a radical change in health.