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The Good and Bad of Our Little Bugs

Bacteria seem to get a bad rap. Sure, bad bacteria can be responsible for many sicknesses, but the right bacteria can also prevent many sicknesses.  It's the right balance of good and bad bacteria that keeps you in good health. What? Bugs can be good for me?  You bet! To demonstrate, let's talk about washing your hands.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention published an article about the importance in washing your hands and preventing disease.  But what they didn't mention is what to wash your hands with, except to use soap. Since the 1990's antibacterial soaps have become popular.  What does antibacterial mean?  It's anything that destroys bacteria or suppresses their growth or their ability to reproduce (1). What better way to make hand washing more effective than to add something that kills bacteria, right?  That couldn't be further from the truth.  This article by Harvard University explains why the antibacterial soaps are not ideal, and why they are actually causing more disease.  The only bacteria that survive after washing your hands with antibacterial soap are mutant bacteria, and with all the other good bacteria killed off, they can grow and multiply without anything to stop them.  And let me give you a hint about mutant bacteria, they are not good for you. Doesn't that scare you a bit?  Me too! So let's talk about inside your body. Your mouth and your gut are full of trillions of bacteria--some good, and some bad.  The friendly bacteria are important for good health and digestion. They destroy harmful bacteria and other microorganisms and produce vitamin K, folate and short-chain fatty acids (2). Antibiotics like penicillin became miracle cures for many diseases during World War II.  But since they 1950's there has been a concern about antibiotics being overused and bacteria becoming resistant to them.  As with hand washing, antibiotics kill the good bacteria, giving the bad mutated bacteria free reign to grow without anything to stop them.While a balanced microbiome is related to health, an imbalanced microbiome or dysbiosis is related to many health problems both within the gastro-intestinal tract, such as diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease, and outside the gastro-intestinal tract such as obesity and allergy (7). That's where probiotics come in.  Probiotics are live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host (6).  They create a terrain favorable for the right bacteria to grow in the gut.  The good and the bad bacteria compete for the same food source and space so anything that favors the good bacteria means they have a better chance to dominate.  So if you are full of lots of bad bacteria, it's going to take some work over the course of an extended period of time to make a difference.  Continuously supplying the body with probiotics can help make that difference. Where can you get probiotics?  Well, you can get them from cultured foods... probiotic foods 1probiotic foods 2 Another source is supplements.  A general guide for probiotic supplements is in the following document.  A general rule of thumb is high quality manufacturing, proper storage (many need to be refrigerated), multiple strains, and body site specific bacteria.  I will have more in depth information on this in the near future. Probiotics are safe for use in otherwise healthy populations, but caution should be taken in specific patient groups.  Risk factors for adverse events include immunosuppression, prematurity, critical illness, presence of structural heart disease, hospitalization, presence of a central venous catheter and the potential for translocation of probiotics across the bowel wall. (3)  In other words, if your body's immunity is low,  you may want to stay away from a lot of probiotics because they will just make you more sick. The potential application of probiotics includes prevention and treatment of various health conditions and diseases such as gastrointestinal infections, inflammatory bowel disease, lactose intolerance, allergies, urogenital infections, cystic fibrosis, various cancers, reduction of antibiotic side effects, in oral health such as prevention of dental caries, periodontal diseases and oral malodour. (4)  Studies also suggest that oral bacteria and the inflammation associated with periodontitis — a severe form of gum disease — might play a role in some diseases. (5) Did you hear that?  Treatment of periodontal disease?  That's why I use probiotics in periodontal therapy and have seen very positive results. There's more to come on the use of probiotics, so stay tuned.  In the meantime here are some articles and studies about probiotics  that you can look through:


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