Posts tagged: good bacteria

Harming our Good Bacteria may be Harming Us in the Long Run

By the time we are 18, we have received 10-20 courses of antibiotics. This antibiotic usage has enabled us to live longer and healthier lives, by overcoming bouts of infections. But there are, of course, drawbacks to this antibiotic consumption. The most obvious and most worrying of these drawbacks, is the development of drug resistant bacteria (superbugs) such as MRSA. However, antibiotics also kill the normal microflora, the ‘good bacteria’ that we need to maintain good overall health. The long term implications of repetitive disruption of our microflora by antibiotics, unfortunately, are not understood and not being adequately investigated.

When in the right concentrations and when the body’s natural immune system is healthy, bacteria are an important part of us. In fact, there are 10 times more bacteria cells in us than there are human cells.5 Human cells and bacteria have developed a symbiotic relationship over time. In order to answer the question of whether harming the good bacteria is harmful to us in the long run, we need to understand more about bacteria.  So how are bacteria beneficial to us?

Firstly, in our stomach, intestines and colon, we have “good” bacteria that play a major role in breaking down our food into nutrients to be absorbed by our body and into waste material that is eventually eliminated.  Along the way, these good bacteria take up colonization sites thereby preventing harmful bacteria, and other pathogens, from taking residence where they do not belong.

Secondly, bacteria can also play a major role in the production of key elements in our body. For example, Bacteroides species of bacteria live in our colon and help us produce Vitamin K, needed for blood clotting. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is another example of the body needing a bacteria to function properly. H. Pylori, while responsible for stomach ulcers in some people when in overabundance, seem to play a major role in the generation of key hormones that control our appetites. H. Pylori appears to affect the regulation of the two hormones, ghrelin and leptin, involved in human energy homeostasis and implicated in the control of food intake such as controlling hunger. Leptin signals to your body it is full while ghrelin stimulates appetite. In one study, it was determined that fewer than 6% of children’s stomachs in the United States, Sweden, and Germany now carry H. Pylori. The lack of Helicobacter pylori has been thought to be linked to the increase in gastroesophageal reflux, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer. Interestingly, those lacking H. pylori are also more likely to develop asthma, hay fever or skin allergies.1 Dr. Martin Blaser, a professor of microbiology at New York University Langone Medical Center, suggests ‘that antibiotics may permanently alter your gut bacteria and interfere with important hunger hormones secreted by your stomach, leading to increased appetite and body mass index (BMI)’.3

Our bodies have been living in balance with our bacteria for thousands of years. It is a symbiotic relationship that is now being permanently altered by the use, overuse and misuse of antibiotics. No one knows at this point how seriously antibiotics are harming our long term health prospects. It will take decades worth of research and the resolve of governmental forces to undertake this large scale investigation. However, for today, it is worth asking the question; “By harming our good bacteria, are we not also harming ourselves in the long run?”

References: 1 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2435636/

2 http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/11/24/antibiotics-promote-obesity.aspx

3 http://www.jpp.krakow.pl/journal/archive/11_06_s5/articles/05_article.html

4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacteria

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