Sunday, April 28, 2013

Be Nice To Your Bacteria and They May Return the Favor

Bacteria are everywhere; it is estimated that 100 trillion bacteria occupy our guts composed of 500 to 1,000 different strains. Yet, what most people know about bacteria is its relationship to illness. Who hasn't over the course of their lives been prescribed an antibiotic for one bacterial infection or another?

So bacteria are bad, right? Not always. Some people know that there are such things as good bacteria, referred to as probiotics. (For more on probiotics see my blogs, More On Probiotics at and What About Probiotics? These 'healthy bacteria' are believed to live in our gut in a symbiotic relationship--we feed them and they perform some helpful functions for us.  But, some of the bacteria in our gut are dangerous and only pose a problem when they grow out of proportion of their usually small numbers. They are called opportunistic bacteria because they take advantage of opportunities to multiply when the normal state of affairs is altered. For example, although antibiotics kill certain harmful bacteria, they also destroy some helpful bacteria. This shifts the balance for control of the gut and allows some harmful bacteria to overgrow due to the decrease of the healthy bacteria that usually keep them at bay.

The results of a healthy balance of gut bacteria has been long known.  It keeps the gut working properly and in many cases means normal bowel function. Some people think that by taking probiotics they are maintaining a healthy gut. Unfortunately, the science doesn't support that simply taking some probiotic, whether composed of a single strain of bacteria or a blend, whether containing hundreds of millions or even billions of colonies, really makes a difference in the face of the complexities and interactions among the 10 trillion various bacteria. The situation is simply far too complex for such a simple solution.

It's not that putting bacteria in the gut can't help.  Recent studies support that putting fresh feces from a healthy family member down a naso-gastric tube (a tube inserted through the nose that reaches the stomach) is actually the most effective treatment for a Clostridia Difficile (C. Diff) infection, which is a bacterial infection that often develops in response to someone taking too many or for too long, antibiotics.  This bacterial infection created by antibiotics often proves resistant to even more antibiotics taken to restore normalcy.  However, the healthy bacteria found in the fresh feces are able to overcome this 'bad' bacteria and restore the gut.  The idea may be unpleasant to you, but it works.

Recently, some new discoveries regarding the bacteria in our gut have been made. It's been long known that meat eaters have different bacteria in their gut then vegetarians, but the significance wasn't known.  It was recently shown that these bacteria are associated with increased risk of heart disease due to productive of a compound called TMAO. The studies show a relation to carnitine and lecithin in your diet. I won't bore you with the science other than to say that TMAO levels were found to be highest in those routinely consuming meat and eggs.  Another interesting study done in mice (human relevance unknown) showed that in obese mice who undergo gastric bypass surgery, the composition of their gut bacteria changes, probably as a result of change in diet. This has also been shown to be true in humans.  In the mice experiments, researchers took the new bacterial composition of strains from these no longer obese mice and injected them into obese mice. Guess what happened? The obese mice lost weight without surgery.

It's been debated for some time if the bacteria in an obese person are a result of the obesity or a causative factor. This mice study suggests it is causative and you can bet that some resourceful scientists are now researching if using the gut bacteria from patients post gastric surgery that have slimmed down or even bacteria from normally slim people can be used as an effective weight loss tool.  It is an exciting avenue of study and I am sure it will produce some exciting results in the not too distant future.

In the interim, limit your meat and egg consumption to one piece of beef no more often than once every two weeks and to no more than two egg yolks per week. Eliminating both altogether if you can isn't a bad idea either. In their place, get your healthy protein from wild fish like salmon and once a week chicken.  Your bacteria may not thank you, but it doesn't mean they are not grateful.


  1. We should be aware of what probiotics can do to our body. And also what benefits we can get from it. It helps a lot with us having needed good bacteria.

  2. Wow! This is such well-explained facts about probiotics. Thank you for sharing this to everyone,
    We should be aware of what probiotics can do to our body.
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