Bad Bugs vs. Good Bugs
I have been having a bug problem for 30 years and it’s not in my house. It’s in my gut. I have been learning a lot about the importance of the various bacteria in and on our bodies since my two cancer diagnoses nearly three years ago. Did you know we are host to a hundred trillion bacteria? Did you know that we have ten times as many bacterial cells as human cells? Think about that. Ten times! Are we human or just a walking symbiotic soup of various life forms?
What I’ve come to realize is the soup that is me, is a mess at the moment and has been ever since I took some seriously strong antibiotics when I was 20 living in the south of France. I don’t know what that doctor was thinking or if we were really communicating clearly, but what I see now is that my gut has been wrecked ever since. That is when my chronic UTIs started. And shortly after returning from France, I got my first case of strep throat. That is also when my dairy allergy likely started—a few years later I started breaking out in cystic acne one of the symptoms of a dairy allergy. All conditions needing more antibiotics.
But back then they didn’t know anything was wrong with antibiotics. Doctors prescribed them for everything. Even conditions that didn’t have to do with bacteria were treated with antibiotics. The thing though, is that antibiotics kill not only the bad bacteria but the good ones as well and we need those good bugs for all kinds of functions (see below).
We also didn’t know about probiotics back then, or at least I hadn’t heard of them. Or about how important it was to build the good bacteria back up. The gut microflora can build itself back up over time but not too easily if you keep taking more antibiotics and killing everything off. Fast forward 30 years and at least a dozen rounds of antibiotics for various conditions later, and I’m lying in the hospital with a scary high fever after my stem cell transplant for mantle cell non-Hodgkins lymphoma and once again, the doctors are giving me stronger and stronger antibiotics trying to bring down the fever. Apparently there was a bug that was supposed to stay inside my gut that was leaking out due to my seriously inflamed gastrointestinal tract. After all of the various antibiotics over the past 30 years, topped off by chemo, more antibiotics and then more chemo, my gut flora has got to be completely wrecked.
I’ve spent the past two years trying to rebuild my gut bacteria with probiotic capsules, as well as the naturally occurring probiotics found in raw sauerkraut, kim chi and home made kombucha (can’t do yogurt or kefir because of the darn dairy allergy—besides lots of sugar in that store bought yogurt). But I suspected that it was still way out of balance when I recently got two UTIs in two months. I went to my naturopath and she prescribed a stool sample to see what the actual bacterial balance was in my gut.
It was a completely disgusting experience (I’m not going to lie) to collect the sample but fascinating information from the lab results that I got back just last week. Turns out that, not surprisingly, I have very low diversity of the various bacteria that are supposed to be in our gut. Also, not surprisingly, I have more of the bad kind than the good kind. Plus I even found out I have an infection from a bad bacteria that was actually giving me no symptoms. So it’s mega doses of probiotics for a few months followed by another test (ugh) to see how it’s all doing. Side note: when taking probiotics, look for a brand with a lot of different strains of good bacteria, and many billions of them per capsule. Usually the kind that need to be refridgerated are more effective.
I am so grateful to know exactly what is happening in my gut because the research shows that not only does our intestinal microflora perform specific functions that improve our ability to digest, absorb, and eliminate the foods we eat, but according to medical researcher, biochemist and chiropractor, Dr. David Williams, the benefits of these bacteria extend well beyond digestion. Research hasn’t yet shown all of the connections between our gut bacteria and our health, but here are some of the known relationships:
- Improves immune health
- Improves mood and mental health
- Boosts energy levels
- Improves cholesterol levels
- Regulates hormone levels
- Reduces yeast infection occurrences
- Supports a healthy weight
- Improves oral health
- Contributes to longer life
Looking at that list, I can see that gut health really is the key to overall health, as they have long believed in eastern medicine. Let me know in the comments below what you are doing to improve your gut health!
To your health,