Ever heard the phrase, "Your body is a temple"? People usually refer to this quote when stressing how important it is that we as humans take care of our bodies... which it is. We also often hear, "You are what you eat." Also true. But have you ever heard that our bodies are an ecosystem? What do I mean by ecosystem? Well, an ecosystem is a community of living organisms, and our bodies are just that -- a community of living organisms. But do you actually know what those living organisms are? Yes, we are made up of organ systems, blood vessels, and all that good stuff. But our ecosystems are homes to TONS of bacteria. In fact, there are about 100 trillion bacteria living right in our gut. Sounds wonderful, I know.
Bacteria has always been known as one of the bad guys, and remains to have a bad rap. We often associate bacteria with filthiness and causing infections and viruses, because that's what "bad" bacteria does. But what do you know about the good guys, aka "good" bacteria? While we generally assume all bacteria must be avoided, we actually need good bacteria to remain healthy and maintain a balanced ecosystem. Good bacteria benefits us because it provides valuable support such as it aids in digestion and produces important vitamins that our bodies need.
Some of you may be wondering, why is this important? And why do I need to know this? As I mentioned before, the bacteria that we possess are an ecological community. Ecological communities need balance. Therefore, the good and bad bacteria living within us need balance. Many people are unaware that without this balance, we are susceptible to a number of health conditions like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
Bad bacteria is unavoidable; it is everywhere in our environment and enters our bodies on a daily basis. Having good bacteria in our bodies helps stop bad bacteria from growing and causing disease. The balance between good and bad bacteria is like a war. Our bodies are the homeland, and the good bacteria are the soldiers fighting to protect it. And on the outside, otherwise known as the foreign land, we have the bad bacteria (the enemy) who is trying to destroy and take over the homeland. It is our responsibility as the homeland, to provide the weapons the good bacteria needs to go to war. What are the weapons? We'll get to that in a bit. Just know, we need to protect the homeland!
Without good bacteria, disease-causing bacteria can flourish. This can result in mild conditions like allergies or serious conditions like autoimmune diseases. Without a balance of good and bad bacteria, constant inflammation can occur. Inflammation is the body's way of telling us something is wrong. When chronic, we are more susceptible to autoimmune diseases and cancer. An example of this is inflammatory bowel disease. When inflammatory bowel disease is not controlled, it can cause colon cancer.
Too much of a good thing? Too much good bacteria can also be bad. Let's take a look at antibiotics for example. Antibiotics are the most common cause of an imbalance in bacteria. We use antibiotics to treat viruses, infections, and kill the bad bacteria that causes them. But antibiotics can also kill the good bacteria that we need to protect us. When this happens, the bad bacteria that are normally kept at bay have a chance to grow and create an environment that is ideal for disease. And unfortunately, the use of antibiotics in this country is often abused. When you take antibiotics more frequently, they become less effective because our immune systems have adapted to them. Antibiotics are extremely effective in treating a virus, but they should not be used when they are not needed.
Other things that can reduce good bacteria are eating too much fat, sugar, and processed foods, drinking too much alcohol, taking drugs, too much stress, or toxins in the environment, such as food preservatives or additives.
So, how do you know if your ecosystem is out of whack? Waiting until we have a serious illness or disease is obviously not going to cut it. If you have any of the following signs or symptoms, you may need to re-balance your ecosystem: unexplained weight loss (with an inability to gain weight regardless of what you eat), malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies (regardless of how much nutrient-rich foods you eat), constipation, high cholesterol levels, intestinal gas, chronic vaginal infections (i.e., yeast infections), chronic bad breath, chronic diarrhea, chronic anemia, hormonal problems (i.e., low libido), osteoporosis, severe PMS or menstrual problems, prostate problems, male breast enlargement, intolerance for dairy or allergic to dairy, vitamin B deficiencies, severe bruising, chronic bladder infections.
Now, remember when I mentioned earlier that I would get back to the "weapons" our bodies need to provide the good bacteria with? Here's what you need to know. When I say weapons, I mean resources. It is our responsibility to provide our bodies with resources that can help the good bacteria thrive and keep those bad guys in check. Ever heard of probiotics? Probiotics are foods like yogurt or dietary supplements that contain live bacteria. Taking probiotics can improve our health as they can restore the good bacteria that our bodies need. Researchers are currently trying to figure out a more advanced way to use probiotics in the future. They are trying to figure out how specific bacteria can be prescribed as customized treatments for patients with various illnesses or diseases.
Other ways to rebalance your ecosystem:
• Eat a diet high in fiber and whole foods, aka prebiotics. Feed the good bacteria with high-fiber foods and whole foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, bananas, and greens.
• Avoid, or limit, sugar, fat, and processed foods. These types of foods feed the bad bacteria in your gut.
• Take probiotics daily. Probiotics come in the form of a supplement as well as some foods like miso. This can improve your digestive health and reduce inflammation caused by too much bacteria.
• Avoid bacteria-harming drugs such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or acid blockers. These can do more harm as they kill the good bacteria in our gut.
• Drink more water. This helps with digestion and can help prevent constipation, which can make it difficult for good bacteria to survive.
• Reduce stress. Learn how to live a well-balanced lifestyle.
What I want everyone to take away from this is that ultimately, we need to put more focus on our health. Our society has become so reliant on medication to keep us going and get us better when we are sick. This is not a good solution. What we truly need is the proper combination of good and bad bacteria in our immune systems, aka a balanced ecosystem. If we keep our ecosystems balanced, we can stay healthy, significantly reduce our risk for disease, and keep the war at peace.