I’ve wanted to write this article for a long time because it seems that people really dislike ‘bad microbes’. But really, they’re given a bad wrap which simply isn’t justified – did you know that supposedly ‘harmful’ microbes such as candida albicans & H.pylori can actually be beneficial for you?!
Yup, it’s true – but let’s delve a little deeper so that we can really clear up the situation.
In this video here, I explain how microbes can change with regards to their effects upon humans.
Basically, bacteria have the DNA written for them which allows them to multiply asexually. They simply grow big enough to split into two bacteria & voila, 1 turns into 2. This allows them to go from 100 bacteria to 200 bacteria very quickly & pretty soon a large population can be established.
Now here’s where things get a little interesting. Bacteria know that they can’t have an influence on any given environment until they have a certain number of themselves to ‘tip the scale’ if you will. So being such primitive organisms, how do they work out their population density?
Well it turns out that bacteria have their own language! How cool is that? Each bacterial cell has receptor sites where they can receive information from other bacteria in their area. This information comes in the form of metabolites or ‘bacterial hormones’ so to speak. This phenomenon is called ‘quorum sensing’ & it is how bacteria determine their population density within your gut or large intestine!
This is key because at certain concentrations (population densities) genetic switches can be activated within different bacteria!
Let’s use H.Pylori as an example as this has been studied heavily over the past 40 years or so. We’ve been told H.Pylori is the cause of stomach ulcers & gastritis ever since Barry Marshall drank a broth of Helicobacter pylori in the mid-1980s to self-induce gastritis & gastric ulcers in the name of good science. It seemed that H.Pylori was the causal factor & it’s probably true.
But what microbiologists have found now, is that almost everybody naturally carries H.pylori within their gastrointestinal tract & yet do not experience gastric ulcers or gastritis.
It is only when the H.Pylori reaches a certain critical mass point that it becomes pathogenic! Perhaps at a population density of 10,000 per 10,000,000 H.Pylori’s evil, conniving gastric ulcer genes are switched on but anything under this density, H.pylori is happy to just cruise & be cool.
“What’s interesting about Helicobacter is that everybody is focusing on its pathogenic role and not enough on its role as an indigenous organism,”
Dr Martin Blaser, Chair of the Department of Medicine at New York University, has been very vocal in his opinions on this very bacteria:
“I don’t use the term infection for Helicobacter anymore, I only use the term colonisation. I think it’s normal flora just like Escherichia coli or Bacteroides.”
According to Blaser & his team at NYU, H.pylori has been drastically reduced from the average person’s digestive tract due primarily to antibiotic use. This is interesting because H.pylori seems to be anything but commensal (useless), but rather it seems to play a role in training the immune system & regulating appetite!
Another example we could look at is candida albicans – this particular yeast has been attacked for years by western medicine & complimentary medicine alike, & yet we often forget that in healthy numbers, candida is a beneficial member of the bowel as it chews up excess sugars & can even help you excrete heavy metals like mercury from the system! Does this mean you want to increase your candida levels? Probably not – as Dr Simoncini says, candida overgrowth is the root cause of many illnesses – but it gives us perspective on the whole microbial equation doesn’t it?
Nature seems to know best & when we started toying too heavily with people’s microbes we really did ourselves in. And yet our fascination with antibiotics is completely understandable, considering they were born from a time when ‘simple’ infections like that from a sharp rose thorn could kill you.
So how do we ensure that these populations of microbes stay in balance so that their evil genes remain turned off?
The answer, is good microbes.
Countless studies have been done on the role of probiotics in reducing or balancing numbers of pathogenic microbes within the human body. Kefir, for instance, contains probiotics which help reduce potentially harmful yeasts within the body. Lactobacillus & bifidobacterium are known to keep H.pylori in check & loads more!
This is why I take probiotics in some form every single day especially when I’m on holiday in somewhere like Bali or Sri Lanka!
So long-term, the best thing you can do is to look after your beneficial microbes! The answer isn’t always to simply wipe out your entire microbiome with antibiotics or anti fungal medications (which according to the World Health Organisation are drastically over-used) in the hope that you’ll kill the one or two bugs causing your health ailments, but rather to support your good bugs so that they can enjoy a position of authority within your system!
It may be that you would benefit from an anti-fungal or antibiotic cleanse short term (for that I recommend Allicin – the extract of garlic – super powerful stuff) but a long-term approach involves setting up a bodily environment that is conducive to fostering the growth & maintenance of a healthy population of good microbes.
My book, The Gut Healing Protocol, was designed (using information from the top experts in the field of the microbiome) to help you rebalance your gut health to ensure that you good bugs can thrive! Check it out.
Sources for this article include:
Hadley, C. (2006). The infection connection: Helicobacter pylori is more than just the cause of gastric ulcers—it offers an unprecedented opportunity to study changes in human microecology and the nature of chronic disease. EMBO Rep, 7(5), pp.470-473.
Blaser, M. (2011). Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria. Nature, 476(7361), pp.393-394.
Murphy, K. (2011). Scientist Examines Possible Link Between Antibiotics and Obesity. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/01/health/scientist-examines-possible-link-between-antibiotics-and-obesity.html.