The human microbiome—that 3½ to 4 pounds of bacteria, bacteriophage, fungi, protozoa, and viruses that live on and in us, primarily in our intestines, is finally getting the attention it deserves, and it’s now recognized how much these microbes, which number in the trillions, contribute to our health.
They help us digest and absorb food, synthesize vitamins, produce amino acids, secrete mucus, prevent constipation by increasing motility, create food for intestinal cells, and, perhaps most importantly, partner with our immune system—60-80% of which is located in the intestines—by degrading toxins and competing with and killing off infectious bacteria and yeasts.
However most of our microbiomes are in pretty bad shape, and in a recent article in the Townsend Letter, pharmacist Ross Pelton, who is also a nutritionist with a Ph.D. in psychology and holistic health, explains why.
He compares the situation to a “perfect storm” of factors that have conspired to assault and damage our microbiomes and the probiotics they nurture or fail to nurture. Further, he argues that this damage is a key factor in our current epidemic of chronic degenerative diseases like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, dementia, etc.
The factors in this “perfect storm” are:
- The transition from organic, family farms to industrial, chemicalized agribiz and the factory farm. This change has led to significant declines in the nutrient content of our food, increased our toxic exposures, and killed soil bacteria and fungi which are critical to the life of the soil. Healthy soil is essential to the health and life of the plants grown on that soil, to the humans who eat those plants, and to the gut probiotics living in that human.
- Antibiotics and other drugs. Discovered in the 40s and 50s, antibiotics have disrupted the microbiome in animals, humans, and the soil (pesticides are antibiotics). Much of our ingestion of antibiotics comes from the antibiotics given to livestock which becomes our food.
- The loss of fiber in our diets. Fiber feeds our gut bacteria, yet 90% of children and adults in America aren’t getting the recommended amount of daily fiber. To support a healthy and diverse probiotic population in our guts, we must eat a variety of fiber-rich foods. Processed foods are notably low in fiber.
- Gut inflammation and “leaky gut,” are caused by bad gut bacteria and also by gluten.
In Newsclips coming up, we will look at each of these factors and at how to rebuild the health of our “inner ecology.”