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Good Health Depends on Your Bacterial Ecosystem

There are 7 billion humans on planet Earth today with each one of us a walking ecosystem.[*][*]

It is difficult to comprehend that the majority of cells in the human body aren’t even human – with bacterial cells out numbering human cells 10 to 1.[*]

Micro-organisms reside in (just about) every part of our bodies. With over 100 trillion (yeah, with ‘t’) bacteria, these teeny single-celled organisms account for nearly five pounds of our bodily make-up. Our mouth alone is comprised of several hundred species of bacteria – each tooth with its own mini-ecosystem.[*][*]

Scientists (within a multitude of disciplines) equate the bacteria inhabiting the human body as another functioning organ - providing vital tasks critical for human survival.[*][*]

Our Vital Relationship with Bacteria

The science on the critical function of microbes in human health is in its infancy.

What we do understand is that in healthy bodies, bacteria does not cause disease – instead, they coexist in synchronization with their host.[*]

One example among of many, staphylococcus aureus (with several strains linked to the drug-resistant infection called MRSA) can be found in the noses of about 30% of healthy people not causing any illness.[*]

And although bacteria has been seen as the bane of human existence for last century, the knowledge that is accumulating is increasingly viewing them as our fundamental life partners.[*]

Researchers working on the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) report that microbes in our body contribute more genes that are responsible for human survival than humans contribute. Our human genome carries approximately 22,000 genes, while the micro-organisms residing inside us contribute 8 million unique protein genes (360 times more then the human host).[*] 

The genes that are contributed by bacteria are critical, not just for our health, but our survival. For example, bacteria located in our GI-tract contain genes that allow humans to digest AND absorb nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable. Other microbes produce valuable compounds such as vitamins and anti-inflammatories (which regulate some aspects of our immune response, such as swelling) that our genome cannot manufacture.[*]

The old belief that these microbes are freeloaders or invaders is quickly vanishing and being replaced by a new holistic understanding of health.

There are several papers already published, and many more in process, that are drawing the first links between our bacteria and common ailments like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), unexplained fever in children, obesity, depression, asthma, even ache. Scientists are even attempting to understand how our bacterial makeup contributes to chronic conditions such as cancer and possibly autism.[*][*]

The Significant Origins of a Bacteria Fingerprint

Method of Birth
When we are in our mother’s womb, our gut and body is sterile of bacteria and microbes. Each sterile newborn born vaginally encounters their first exposure to the make-up of their microbial world by means of what their mother is has been exposed to during her life (environment/diet/pets/antibiotics/etc) via the vagina. This event plays a primary role in training the immune system to distinguish ‘good’ bacteria from ‘bad bacteria. Babies that are born surgically via cesarean obtain a different encounter during birth which is fundamentally different from their counterparts which confers a predisposition to food allergies and asthma later in life.[*][*][*][*][*][*][*][*][*]

Although cesarean surgery is necessary for a small amount of pregnancies, it is very much clear that medical reasons alone cannot justify why more then one in three women in America require major abdominal surgery to give birth safely.[*]

Breast milk versus Artificial Supplement 
After a child’s birth there are certain bacterial components, particularly in the intestinal tract, that are deficient and underdeveloped. There is a fixed amount of time to develop an infant’s internal flora properly.[*]

Breast milk, not any other artificial supplement on the market, fosters the colonies of beneficial microbiotic flora that assist with nutrient absorption (particularly iron) and immune system development (specifically sIgA in the first 30 days of life).[*][*]

The distinctive bacterial fingerprint that a breastfed infant has lowers the incidence of diarrhea, influenza and respiratory infections while also providing protection against the later development of allergies, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses.[*][*][*][*][*]

Once past infancy, the composition of the mother’s milk changes according to the child’s specific needs-in fact, the composition of breast milk changes not only daily but hourly! While the time between feedings become longer, the mucosal and bacterial protection continues long after that nursing session is over.[*][*]

An infant’s diet early in life definitely affects his/her individual microbial fingerprint.[*]

The World Health Organization (WHO) states exclusive breast milk is the best food for a newborn, and should not be substituted, since it meets all the child's physiological requirements during the first six months of life (with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond).[*][*]

Anti-bacteria Assault  

According to the CDC, 18 million courses of antibiotics are prescribed for the common cold every year…with an additional 50 million courses prescribed for viral respiratory infections.[*]

It is worth noting that in some of these cases, the prescription is medically warranted – however, the CDC estimates that 80% of the cases it is NOT.[*]  

There are over 10 million antibiotic prescriptions given to children. Every. Year.[*]  

Numerous studies confirm that the use of antibiotics modifies the bacteria in our bodies, some contend that this can last for 6 months, a year, and some even say permanently.[*][*][*]

Obviously, the short term effect of this modification is welcomed (to eliminate unwanted, harmful bacteria), however there are often unwelcome side effects. Particularly in children, adverse consequences experienced can range from diarrhea to abdominal pain. A few studies have even reported higher instances of irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, repeat ear infections and type 1 diabetes.[*][*][*]  

Some of the most popular antibiotics prescribed even come with an infamous black box warning – causing tendon rupture or, most recently, having the ability to block neuromuscular activity (causing fibromyalgia-like symptoms).[*][*]

What is extremely disheartening is that patients (and parents) are rarely informed of the risks associated with antibiotic use (especially repeat use).

And when it comes to doctors, not all are created equal. Those of who have been in practice longer, have a larger patient base and have trained outside the US or Canada are much more likely to prescribe antibiotics inappropriately. For every year a doctor has been in practice, the rate of improper prescribing increases 4%![*]

The key to responsibly using antibiotics:[*]

Ask what antibiotic is being prescribed
Ask if there is an effect alternative
Ask what side effect you should be alert for
Ask when you should expect the unwanted condition to resolve
Ask when you should call is something unexpected happens or if recovery seems delayed


We need to become more aware of our symbiotic relationship with the bacteria within the body. This starts with not stereotyping all bacteria as bad. In fact, although a few may be problematic, these account for far less than 1% that exist in our body.[*]

Bacteria are our allies. Our evolution and existence depend largely due to the relationship that has been maintained and preserved for centuries.

They are essential to basic bodily functions: digesting food, producing vitamins, aiding immune response, sustaining good health.[*]

Take care of your ecosystem – it sure takes care of you!

To start learning more, check out: NIH Human Microbiome Project Website

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