Good Bugs
By Fred Pescatore, MD, and Karolyn A. Gazella
Follow these five steps to help ensure you have the proper ratio of beneficial bacteria to promote wellness and prevent illness.

To some people, bacteria are frightening or even offensive. But bacteria are also incredibly misunderstood. The fact is bacteria can change your life. Much has been written about why kids should eat dirt—filled with bacteria—and how dangerous our sanitized society—with a lack of bacteria—has become. It’s difficult to watch television without seeing a commercial that touts the digestive benefits of yogurt (yet another source of bacteria). After discovering that the human body is made up of about 90 percent bacteria and 10 percent human cells, the scientific community has, not surprisingly, become increasingly intrigued by bacteria.

Bacterial Balance: The Missing Link to Your Health?
The average adult has about 100 trillion bacteria in hisor her body. It seems only logical that such a massive amount of bacteria can influence our health and that there must be some bacteria that are on our side. If all of those bacteria were harmful, we’d be dead. The human body is actually designed to have a higher percentage of beneficial bacteria than bad bacteria. The sole purpose of the legions of beneficial bacteria housed in the human body is to keep us healthy—billions of “best friends” working tirelessly on our behalf. Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace all pale in comparison to this internal social network. This network of friends will help determine if you get sick or if you feel well.

Beneficial bacteria can help you prevent disease, and if you are struggling with an illness, they can help you treat it. Just as you focus on important vitamins and minerals in your diet and dietary supplements, you should also focus on beneficial bacteria—perhaps even more.

Bacterial imbalance can be linked to every major illness of our time. Even vague symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, and weakness can be traced back to improper bacterial balance. Proper bacterial balance is not just a matter of taking a probiotic. Supporting the beneficial bacteria already inside you is imperative. There are five steps you can take to help ensure that you have the proper ratio of beneficial bacteria to promote wellness and prevent illness.

Five Steps to Good Health

Step One: Food for Thought
Our bodies are quick to tell us we’ve eaten unhealthful foods. The flip side is also true. When we eat healthful foods, we have more energy, think more clearly, sleep more soundly, and our mood seems to improve. The reaction to the foods we eat is actually feedback from bacteria in our bodies. If we eat poorly, our good bacteria feel the consequences and try to tell us to stop. And when we eat healthfully, the good bacteria reward us.

Good bacteria prefer to eat prebiotics—food that provides them with nourishment. Prebiotic carbohydrates occur naturally in a variety of healthful foods, including berries, garlic, onions, flaxseed, leeks, dandelion greens, spinach, kale, tomatoes, lentils, chickpeas, and black beans.

Harmful bacteria thrive in a harsh environment. Poor nutrition creates a harsh environment that bad bacteria can withstand but good bacteria cannot. Coincidently, the same foods that help bad bacteria take over also weaken the immune system, cause us to gain weight, and put a strain on the heart. Foods containing sugar and trans fat do the most damage. Highly processed foods and smoked meats containing nitrates are also harmful and should be avoided. Choose your food wisely, and your bacterial buddies will reward you.

Step Two: Bathe Your Bacteria
Water is one of the most overlooked, yet essential, nutrients we can ingest, and proper hydration is necessary for good bacteria to thrive. Water assists with the digestion, absorption, transportation, and use of nutrients, and helps ensure the safe elimination of waste products and toxic substances. “Water is the most abundant compound in the human body,” says researcher and author Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD. “There is no system in the body that does not depend on water.”

Surveys indicate that about one-third of Americans drink three or fewer servings of water every day, which isn’t enough for good health. To calculate your water needs, take the number of pounds you weigh and divide that number in half. That number is the fluid ounces you should drink each day.

Step Three: Actions Speak Loudly
What we do is often more compelling than what we say, especially when it comes to our health. Our actions send clear messages to our bacteria. Health-promoting actions such as exercise and stress reduction strengthen good bacteria, while unhealthful activities, such as smoking and eating poorly, support harmful bacteria. Physical activity is one of the most significant health-promoting actions you can do for your body. Exercise not only strengthens muscles and keeps you from getting winded as you climb stairs, it also has many other health benefits that you may not even be aware of. Being physically active will help with everything from strengthening your immune system to enhancing mood to boosting brain function. Aim for 30 minutes of low-impact exercise most days of the week.

Step Four: Supplemental Insurance
Every individual, even those who pay very close attention to what they eat, may need to take dietary supplements. Depleted soil and food processing negatively impact the nutrient content of our food. In addition, high stress levels, lack of sleep, and other factors can increase your body’s demands for dietary supplements. Certain individuals may require more dietary supplementation than others, including individuals struggling with a specific illness, the elderly, women who are pregnant or nursing, and those with a family history of serious illness. Whether you have special nutritional needs or not, every individual will benefit from taking three key dietary supplements. These three supplements provide a strong nutritional foundation to build upon and will help enhance a healthful diet and lifestyle. They include a high-quality multivitamin/mineral supplement; a fish oil supplement that contains essential fatty acids, specifically DHA and EPA (vegans can use a plant oil with essential fatty acids); and a probiotic that contains bacterial strains that have been scientifically proven to be effective and that also contains prebiotic ingredients.

Probiotics should be taken daily, just as you would a multivitamin/mineral supplement. The body does manufacture these good bacteria; however, since they are constantly being attacked by our unhealthful lifestyles, we must get them from food and dietary supplements. We must also replenish them on a daily basis if we are to get the full health-promoting, disease-preventing benefits they provide.

Step Five: Believe in Balance
Good health is all about balance—including the balance of good versus bad bacteria, and tipping the scales in favor of the good. Let’s apply that same philosophy to our proactive prevention plan. From a percentage standpoint, the goal is to have 80 to 85 percent good bacteria and 15 to 20 percent bad. If you follow the above guidelines at least 80 percent of the time, you are dramatically
improving your chances of being healthy.

You now understand that you have access to billions of bacteria that can work on your behalf to be healthy. If you support them properly, they will do their job. They will be the best friends you will ever have. Bacterial balance is the missing link to disease prevention and living life with vitality.




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