Friday, June 22, 2012

The friends we never knew we had...

Photos this week are student painted wall murals in the patio of Alameda High School.  The specific artists are generally not listed on the murals.  They are presented without titles.

Queen Elizabeth has got it right when she refers to herself using the “Royal We”. We should all speak of ourselves in the plural!

 Every surface and crevice of our body is an ecosystem for myriad organisms that find conditions just right for them to live and thrive.  Roughly 100 trillion microorganisms call us each home.  (More than the number of people that has ever lived). We each have between 3 and 5 pounds of bacteria cells living in our digestive system alone!

There are horrific diseases caused by bacterial invasions.  Our natural immune systems have evolved to attempt to deal with these attacks, and modern medicine has a justified focus on combating disease. 

However the role of bacteria living in our bodies and contributing to our well being is a new and exciting field of study.  Some bacteria in my body allow me to take energy from the food I eat, by releasing digestive enzymes that I cannot produce on my own.   Bacterial enzymes also stimulate the production of vital nutrients needed by my body.  They control or prevent the growth of harmful bacteria in my body.  As I live my life, bacteria have interacted with my immune system, programing it to recognize “self” cells from “non self” cells that may be harmful.  The critical roles of positive bacteria is now being examined as a means to combat illness. 

Since their discovery, bacteria have gotten bad press... Just like people, the troublesome minority have given the others a negative image.  Actually, bacteria are necessary at each step of our lives to maintain the health of our bodies.  Many of the enzymes that we require for normal body functions are produced by specific species of bacteria. A major new study was published this week focusing on the interaction of microbes with our whole body system.

This is big news! Check it out...

How has this codependence between man and bacteria come about? Coevolution occurs when two organisms adapt and change over time in response to the other.  The conditions in a particular region of the human body are ideal for the growth of particular species of bacteria.  Over time as my body chemistry has changed, the bacteria have adapted to the changes, and have varied their products.  The human body has also adapted to become dependent on the by-products of the bacteria.  One changes due to environmental change, the other evolves dependence in response.
Also surprising is the fact that we each have vastly unique combinations of bacteria living in our bodies... not really surprising when you consider how we each encounter the world in such different ways, different foods, pets, family and colleagues, travels... Through all of these experiences we accumulate unique “gardens” of bacteria.  There may be as many as 5000 different species of bacteria living in our mouths alone– and nearly all are benign or beneficial to our well-being.  What does that tell you about a friendly kiss!

One surprise discovery is how by moving a few centimeters along our digestive gut the environment changes subtly in terms of available oxygen, acidity, nutrients, etc.   The slightly different environments are advantageous to different populations of bacteria, which in turn produce different by-products upon which our bodies have become dependent.
Virus particles are microorganisms too. They are incredibly smaller than bacteria.  Many virus particles specialize in attacking our bacteria cells.  This complex interaction may be part of the human immunological response to disease.  It is a rich field for future research!  In addition we have fungus organisms in abundance.  One of the miracles of the body is our ability to use the immune system to fight pathogenic disease causing organisms and tolerating beneficial bacteria.

There has been some talk in recent years about introducing into the gut  “friendly” probiotic bacteria, when travelling in a foreign country with “strange” bacteria that may cause “travellers digestive problems”.  You can buy over the counter capsules with friendly living probiotic bacteria. In theory they fill the gut with benign organisms that minimize the growth of strange foreign bacteria. 

Also when you take a course of powerful antibiotics you weaken or kill the disease organisms, but also kill the vast assemblage of  normal good bacteria.  There is concern about leaving this environment vacant until the normal biotic communities can become reestablished (lest a bad guy microorganism gets established first). Some people eat large amounts of yogurt or other naturally probiotic foods to introduce friendly living bacteria to help refill the space..

Learning to manage and “farm” our normal bacteria is an exciting new direction for medicine. This is breaking news and I urge  you to watch for developments as the research continues.

To read more go to;

How to make probiotic sauerkraut:

If you liked this blog, please forward to