The Tao of Intestinal Flora
What Do We Know?
One of the most important and yet least understood parts of our body is our internal immune system, the intestinal flora. These bacteria were discovered in the 1800s by Louis Pasteur, a French scientist, who is credited with the discovery of the pasteurization of milk. More than 500 types of flora have been identified. The varieties, and percentages of each species, vary from person to person and create an intestinal “fingerprint” which is unique to each digestive system.
In the 1970s there began to be a growing awareness that our capricious use of antibiotics was having consequences on our overall health. Symptoms, such as depression, memory lapses, funguses, intestinal gas, loss of sex drive, began to appear to sometimes be part of a larger picture. However, because of the varieties of symptom patterns exhibited, it was very difficult to recognize that there could be a single underlying cause such as an imbalance of the intestinal flora.
One of the greatest contributors to understand this problem was Dr. William Crook, who traced many of these symptoms to destruction of intestinal flora and the subsequent overgrowth of an organism known as Candida Albicans. His contribution was that instead of trying to find a single symptom pattern, he devised a three part self-scoring test based on recognizing and quantifying the many variations of symptom patterns in order to predict the degree of overgrowth of this pathogenic organism. His work was largely responsible for the recognition of the need to reestablish balance in the flora bacterial population.
Following the recognition, that antibiotics and some steroid drugs were creating the conditions leading to the variety of debilitating health conditions, the first small steps were taken to reverse this process. Initially prescribing Acidophilus cultures was tried with spotty results, the reason being that this was similar to clear cutting a virgin forest and planting only pine trees. Next, liquid mixtures of favorable bacteria were tried, but the population percentages were found to be unstable when stored. The solution was to freeze dry the components, and mix them to form “probiotics”, which is how they are currently packaged.
The bacterial immune system can become disturbed by such factors as bad diet, travel, exposure to environmental toxins, disease conditions, excessive use of probiotics supplements, drugs, and stress. Each person has a unique “fingerprint” with variations of concentration of bacteria in different parts of the intestines. Also the individual’s percentages of the flora are different from those in marketed formulas. In addition, the “bottle” bacteria need to mutate to the temperature, diet, chemistry, and the presence of other bacteria, before they truly become effective immune agents. So, this implies seeding not flooding is the best technique. Seeding means to ingest certain quantity of probiotics bacteria and allow them to proliferate in a relatively undisturbed state without the constant introduction of huge numbers of new bacteria.
Symptoms of Bacterial Imbalance
The list of symptoms of bacterial imbalance in the intestines is extensive. Some of the more common ones are:
- allergic reactions,
- increased susceptibility to funguses,
- vaginal yeast infections,
- bowel irregularities,
- poor short term memory,
- sugar cravings,
- loss of sexual desire,
- bronchial coughs,
- and fatigue.
Benefits from Intestinal Flora
The list of benefits from intestinal flora is also extensive:
- a barrier function against pathogens and allergens,
- production of vitamin B12,
- prevention from tooth decay,
- breakdown of proteins, carbohydrates and fats,
- production of certain amino acids,
- prevention of eczema,
- opposing infections,
- preventing and treating colitis,
- tumor inhibition,
- prevention of diarrhea.
Neither of these lists is complete.
What Can We Do?
The manner in which multiflora formulas are often prescribed shows that we still have a considerable misunderstanding of the body‘s internal reality. For example, oral probiotics are not an effective way to refoliate the female vaginal tract. This is more effectively done with vaginal implants of favorable bacteria. The sinuses may be more effectively refoliated by snuffing a few drops of water containing probiotics bacteria. This often cures nighttime irritable bronchial coughs. Also bacterial supplements have potentially higher survival rate if ingested with larger meal that when taken on an empty stomach. They may also be given in enterically coated capsules which are capsules that dissolve only after passing through the stomach. In addition, it is preferable to allow seeded bacteria to multiply and adapt themselves to the individual‘s system, rather than continually ingesting huge quantities of flora which have not yet adapted to the personal unique internal environment.
Certain bacteria have specific function. Plantarum is useful in acute cases of pancreatitis, and also feeds of yeast. Lactobacillus has an antitumor effect.
Favorable bacteria can be found in many fermented foods: kambuchu, certain varieties of yogurt, sourdough bread, miso (best added at the table, not cooked), sauerkraut, and a wide variety of fermented drinks.
Recently interest has been stirred in “soil based” organisms, sparkled by the discovery that many ancient cultures would ingest or apply topically soils from specific locations because of their known curative powers.
Virtual Bacterial Supermarket
Given the incredible number of favorable kinds of bacteria found in the human digestive system, our knowledge of the specific activities and benefits provided by them is still in its beginning stages.
As our knowledge grows about the properties of specific bacteria, it is likely that we will see custom formulas, whose contents and percentages of components will make them more accurate in targeting specific conditions.
So, even with our current limited knowledge of the effects of our little bacterial workforce, we are beginning to understand the value of creating healthy intestinal neighborhoods. We may, in the very near future, find ourselves shopping in a virtual bacterial supermarket, where highly sophisticated practitioners analyze our conditions and recommend precise corrective formulas.