WIN-ning Wednesday: A Little Dirt Won’t Hurt

I recently did a post on the importance of probiotics.  This week, I came across a really interesting article published on-line for the New York Times that talked about the other side of healthy gut flora.  The article looked at how antibiotic overuse is likely disrupting the delicate balance of normal microorganisms (good and bad) that reside in the body.  There is a growing realization in the mainstream medical community over how this disruption can be a root cause of other health issues like asthma, allergies, obesity and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

This has been a health situation long revered by licensed Naturopathic Doctors.  It’s the reason why NDs support the use of probiotics for a variety of health issues.

Moreover, the study of bacterial ecosystems is not a new concept in Science.  Bacteria were one of the first signs of life on earth 4 billion years ago.

The life of bacteria was one of my most favourite topics of study during my Biology undergrad.  It was really fascinating to learn how so many different types of bacteria call the human body a home, and that this is a normal thing.  Bacterial populations are on the skin, in the bladder, the stomach, the intestines, the respiratory tract, mucus membranes, etc. Very few are actually pathogenic, or create disease. When health is optimal, the good, the bad and the ugly can all reside harmoniously together in these places.  (My apologies to any one weirded out by bacteria and other microscopic organisms… and my apologies for my total nerdy-ness right now… but I digress).

Along this line of bacterial ecosystems, investigator Dr. Martin Blazer, who is the focus of the article, was weary that H. pylori, which is a stomach bacteria commonly treated with antibiotics, is really as offensive as it is believed to be:

“The human gut in particular is home to billions of bacteria, but little is known about this hidden ecosystem. Take Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium associated with an increased risk of ulcers and gastric cancer. Many doctors are quick to prescribe antibiotics to kill it even when the patient has no symptoms.

But in 1998, in a paper published in the British Medical Journal, Dr. Blaser was more circumspect, arguing that H. pylori might not be such a bad actor after all. “We’re talking about a bug that’s been in the human gut for at least 58,000 years,” Dr. Blaser said in an interview. “There’s probably a reason for that.”

The end of the article considers how our modern day living, including diet, hygiene and sanitation is affecting our bodies normal bacteria populations.  I’m all for hygiene and sanitation for the prevention of illness, however I can appreciate how the wide spread use of “anti-bacterial” products (soaps, surface cleaners, air fresheners, etc.) may have a similar effect of disrupting the balance of bad versus good bacteria.  Good old soap and water is non-selective of good or bad bacteria and can be a great way to clean up.

The article, by Kate Murphy for the New York Times, can be read in its entirety here:  In Some Cases, Even Bad Bacteria Can Be Good.

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