Carolina Holistic Medicine | Functional & Alternative Medicine | Charleston, SC

Gut Bacteria: The good, the bad and the ugly

By now most people have heard of the microbiome in our small intestines.  There are estimates of about 100 Trillion microbe cells in our gut; outnumbering 10:1 our own human cells.  This extraordinary amount of additional DNA gives us an advantage.  The advantages of good health, a strong immune system and overall balance is only achieved with there are the right types of microbes in our gut.  The microbiome is sensitive to some of industrialized worlds advances.  The advent of antibiotics, pesticides, organic chemicals, stress, poor nutrition and the list goes on have an impact on the organisms within.  Even the way we enter the world makes a difference.  Inoculation of beneficial bacterium through the birth canal and with breast feeding differs with c-section delivery and bottle feeding.  Researchers are now understanding the complex connections between our gut bugs and our brain and other organs.  If the gut microbiome is out of balance, then our bodies suffer.

The bacteria occupying our gut are vast in variety but there are some standout characters with important health benefits.  First on the list may be Bifidobacterium longum.  B. longum is considered a probiotic and a very important one too.  In fact, scientists consider this one of the most significant types of good bacteria in the human body.  It is one of the first probiotics to set up housekeeping in the gastrointestinal tract.  This microbe helps digest food you eat and helps prevent the growth of competing bacteria by transforming sugars to lactic acid.  This transformation of sugars make the intestines an inhospitable environment for the wrong types of microbes.  Along with other species such as B. infantis and B. lactis these microbes support the immune response.  Obtaining these microbes naturally is by means of eating some fermented foods like kimchi, kefir, and sauerkraut.  When eating these foods become a problem, a little help can be had by taking a probiotic capsule.

Another rather important microbe is Lactobacillus acidophilus.  L. acidophilus along with Bifido colonize the intestines and keep things running smoothly.  They can keep other bacteria that is not beneficial (the bad, if you will) at bay.  While we all contain a number of opportunistic less-beneficial microbes in our gut, keeping them in very small quantities related to the good microbes is very important.  When a person eats lactose filled foods these beneficial microbes prevent the tummy from rumbling.  As stated earlier, stress, poor diet, age and changes in our lifestyle can adversely affect the good microbial mix.  Fixing a disruption in the gut will be important to maintenance of good health.  In children for example when Bifidobacterium bifidum and Lactobacillus acidophilus were paired up and administered to those in a study, the children receiving the good bacteria maintained proper immunity and stayed in school with fewer absenteeism.  This was published in the journal Pediatric International.  For L. acidophilus you can find it in the active live culture in yogurt.  For more concentrated forms you will need to take an oral capsule.  There are many products with mix of beneficial microbes in the billion-count and that is to make sure a viable amount pass beyond the stomach when taken orally.

While this is not a discussion on the “ugly’’ microbes, a few are worth mentioning.  Klebsiella and Salmonella along with some parasites such as Giardia lamblia can make life miserable and so can an overgrowth of Clostridium difficile which can cause a bloody diarrhea that can put the hurt on you.  But when these bugs don’t respond to antibiotic therapy and the problem gets critical treatment with good microbes inoculated from below (fecal transplant) may be called for.

Correcting the imbalance that can occur in the gut is not often easy.  The conditions called Dysbiosis or SIBO (for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) can be a bit tricky to treat and may require some intense therapy for a few months.  Once fixed one has to be on guard so as not to get out of sorts again.

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