Consider yourself a human superorganism, for inside you lives an intimate, highly organized community of microbes. These intelligent beings, including bacteria, yeasts, fungi, and so on, inhabit our digestive, respiratory, and urinary tracts as well as the surface of our skin—in the trillions! They are essential for performing countless metabolic duties, digestive processes, immune-supporting functions, detoxification protocols, and more.

Science tells us that there are over five hundred known species of beneficial, neutral, and pathogenic microbes, and they’ve been with us since we began inhabiting the earth. The beneficial microbes are more commonly referred to as “probiotics,” meaning “for life.” These microbes share a symbiotic relationship and are abundantly present in our bodies at all times. In fact, they out number our human cells by a ten-to-one ratio, with new species being discovered every day. In the words of Dr. Jeffrey Gordon, gastroenterologist turned full-time microbiologist at Washington State University’s School of Medicine in St. Louis, “We are discovering parts of ourselves that we weren’t even aware of. It’s a whole other planet down there.”

The most recognized probiotic strains are from the lacto and bifido species. They are widely used to formulate probiotic supplements and to culture foods like sauerkraut and yogurt (lactofermentation). Transient in nature, they enter our bodies, do their work (if they survive stomach acids), and leave in the stool without colonizing in the intestinal mucosa in large numbers. Mainly acquired through dietary sources, the lacto and bifido species are necessary components of our microbial communities, but they play a much smaller role than previously thought. Largely overlooked until late 2005, the broad spectrum of microbes actively colonizing in the intestinal mucosa began to gain some attention. These permanent dwellers are environmental in nature, meaning they enter our bodies via the air, soil, and water supply. Unlike their lacto and bifido cousins, environmental microbes colonize within us in larger numbers and are highly resistant to stomach pH, resilient in the destructive path of antibiotics, and possess powerful antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic properties.

Much of the microbiota we carry throughout our lives are acquired at birth as we make our journey through the birth canal from a mostly sterile womb to a microbe-filled outer world. Micro-organisms present in a woman’s birth canal mirror the same composition of microbes found in her environment. Those born by cesarean section sadly miss out on this crucial “microbial vaccination” that only a natural birth can provide. A new mother’s colostrum and breast milk should also contain a healthy microbial profile, which she will then pass on as a second inoculation during breast-feeding. Essential nutrients in a woman’s breast milk, mainly the organic sugars, serve as a food source for the microbes, allowing them to proliferate and colonize in the mucosal lining of a baby’s digestive tract. This is the beginning of the immune system.

Beneficial superorganisms transferred during birth should comprise 80 to 85 percent of the total human microbiota. Any other ratio can lead to poor health. Chronic ear, urinary tract or yeast infections, constipation, diarrhea, excess bloating, flatulence or belching, sleepiness after meals, acne, eczema, hormonal imbalances, chronic halitosis, toenail/fingernail fungus, and a white coating on the tongue are just some of the classic symptoms of an imbalanced microbiota. Even a person’s weight may be influenced by the microbes he or she carries. Life-giving probiotic organisms help us manufacture vitamins (especially B and K); digest food and absorb nutrients; create end-stage digestive enzymes; balance intestinal pH; fight off parasitic invasions; attack, quarantine, and neutralize toxins; trigger hormones; increase and improve bowel transit time and movement; and protect intestinal walls. They are truly essential to our well-being!

After birth, it is our responsibility to maintain and nourish our inner microbial environment. Unfortunately, a stressful lifestyle, a diet high in refined sugars and carbohydrates, and the overuse of antibiotics, contraceptives, vaccinations, and pharma drugs will permanently alter the delicate composition of the human microbiota. In general, microbes eventually bounce back on their own, but never to their original, healthful composition. Antibiotics, meaning “against life,” pose the most serious threat to our microbial partners. Just one or two courses can negatively impact a person’s inner ecology. Antibiotics destroy all forms of bacteria, allowing other microscopic organisms, such as yeasts and fungi, to dominate the inner environment. This sort of pathogenic overgrowth weakens the immune system, compromises intestinal function, and stresses the body’s natural pathways of detoxification—greatly increasing the risk of disease.

Tips to Restore, Protect, and Maintain Your Inner Microbial Environment

1. Take a high-quality probiotic/prebiotic supplement. When searching for a high-quality probiotic/prebiotic, look for a brand with a broad spectrum of colonizing, environmental microbes blended with or without the more transient lacto and bifido strains. Prescript-Assist™ (P-A) contains over thirty beneficial microflora and is my probiotic supplement of choice. Often referred to as “Mother Nature’s micro-organisms and minerals in a capsule,” P-A is a breakthrough in probiotic/prebiotic technology. Four years of clinical trials have shown that just two P-A capsules per day (550 milligrams each) can drastically reduce or even eliminate gastric upset by rapidly restoring balance to the mucosal flora.

2. Eat cultured foods on a daily basis. Probiotic-rich superfoods, such as organic kefir, organic cultured vegetables, unpasteurized miso, natto, cultured raw butter, organic yogurt, and other cultured foods, will do wonders for your mind, mood, body, and spirit, and they’re incredibly delicious, too! Just three or four half-cup servings per day will provide lasting and profound benefits. Cultured foods—traditionally prepared for thousands of years to preserve food before refrigeration—improve digestion and support the immune system, bringing forth robust health and vitality. Homemade cultured foods are far more economical and therapeutic compared to commercial brands. Cultured foods are rich in lacto and bifido probiotics.

3. Eliminate refined foods from your diet and reduce your consumption of starchy carbohydrates. Refined, highly processed foods and starchy carbohydrates quickly break down into sugar—the preferred food source of pathogenic micro-organisms. Depriving these opportunistic microbes of sugar will cause them to starve, killing them or forcing them to leave your body. This allows the beneficial microbes to flourish once again, returning balance and harmony to your inner environment.

4. Go organic. Conventional food crops are heavily sprayed with pesticides, insecticides, and fungicides. These hazardous substances have a sterilizing effect on soil, depleting its minerals and killing off the naturally occurring soil-borne organisms. Foods grown in depleted crops carry no beneficial microbes and are deficient in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Going organic protects your health and supports the organic farmers who are dedicated to saving our soil and protecting our precious food supply.

5. Reduce your exposure to chlorinated water. Chlorine is a powerful antimicrobial, and it has a grave effect on the human microbiota. Installing a shower filter can reduce your chlorine exposure by up to 99 percent. Quality water filters have become extremely affordable. Cooking with and drinking purified water can protect your digestive tract from the damaging effects of chlorine.

6. Eat your meals in a relaxed environment. When we eat on the run, gobbling down our food without chewing it properly, we set ourselves up for gastric disaster. Stress stimulates the human nervous system to shift into a mode of fight or flight, halting digestion until the perceived danger has passed. The foods trapped in the gastrointestinal tract begin to ferment, putrefy, and rancidify. Pathogens multiply, and gases begin to build up, eventually leading to the release of digestive acids into the esophagus. This common condition is known as GERD. When digestion resumes, flourishing pathogens flood the intestines, causing the gut to become inflamed and hyperpermeable (leaky gut). Conversely, if we sit down to enjoy a meal in a relaxed state, digestion is optimized. The simple act of setting time aside to eat and digest properly can make a world of difference to our intestinal health.

Consuming cultured foods and probiotic/prebiotic supplements, combined with eating a wholesome, organic diet and living a healthy lifestyle, are powerful healing tools in any health improvement protocol. Everyone can benefit from the power of probiotics. Health begins and ends in the gut. What’s in yours?

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Health”, visit http://selfgrowth.com/healthbook3.html

Author's Bio: 

Caroline Barringer, cofounder of Immunitrition™ (http://www.immunitrition.com), is a nutritional therapy practitioner (NTP), certified healing foods specialist (CHFS), EFT therapist, body ecologist, and international lecturer. She is best known for creating the Birth Renaissance Foundation™ and the Certified Healing Foods Specialist Program™ in New York. Caroline’s mission is to change the way the world eats—one person at a time! She advocates self-care, education, and growth, where an individual has the right to make health decisions based on his or her own intuition and research. Immunitrition’s wellness CD series and Cultured Cuisine™ DVD will be released in late 2007. To order culture starters, culturing kits, organic cultured vegetables, and Prescript-Assist™, and more, please visit http://www.culturednutrition.com. To register for an Immunitrition event or to sign up for the Certified Healing Foods Specialist Program, please call Immunitrition at (877) 773-9229.