Bacteria are everywhere. In the soil, on our skin, in our guts, in our eyes, and reproductive organs. Everywhere. In fact, our bodies have more than 10 times the amount of microbial life in us than our own cells.
In the last century, bacteria have gotten a bad wrap. Many bacteria are needed for healthy digestion, immune system function, and healthy reproduction among others.
So rather than having a war on bacteria, cohabitation with bacteria is gaining ground in the scientific world. Recently in the New York Times, the author Michael Pollan wrote a piece about our the latest information regarding the microbiome, the life of the microbes that live with us, and theories on how they help us stay healthy.
The War on Bacteria
Since we’ve known about germs, they have become a target to eradicate. And of course this has been very successful and saved many lives. But it is possible we’ve gotten rid of too many microbes, the ones that helps us as well as the ones that hurt us.
Bacteria are helpful in digestion, our immune system, reproduction, and other bodily functions. People in cultures that do not use or have access to industrialized food production and industrialized chemical cleaners, and therfore a higher exposure to the plethora of bacteria, have a much lower rate of atopic eczema, asthma, allergies, IBS, and other chronic diseases (of course lack of access to modern medicine produces other medical dangers like severe infections).
So how do we live together in harmony?
A symbiotic relationship
In acupuncture and Chinese medicine we understand the need to live in harmony with the environment. Bacteria are part of this environment inside and outside our bodies. Now it is looking like we need to life in harmony with our microbes.
What can we do to cultivate a healthy relationship with our bacteria? The research is still being done, so there is no strict prescription. But using common sense, we can gain a few simple recommendations.
1. Eat whole foods. Plant based whole foods that have a lot of fiber and nutrients are not only good for you but also for your gut bacteria. These are called prebiotic foods because they stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut. In the long run, they are much better than taking probiotics. Different forms of fiber (soluble and insoluble) may help encourage healthy bacteria in different parts of your digestive system. You can’t go wrong with eating whole foods, its healthy in many other ways such as providing vitamins, minerals, and proteins.
2. Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods are foods which bacteria, yeast, and fungi have processed. Fermented foods have been a part of human culture probably as long as we have had culture. Fermented foods, like sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir, and sour pickles contain naturally occurring lactic acid bacteria, which is what probiotics are. These foods will provide a large variety of lactic acid bacteria increasing your micro biome diversity.
They are delicious and you can make them at home!