Friday, September 18, 2009

Bugs in your bowel

You have lots of bugs living in your bowel, infact you have about 10 000 000 000 000, that is 10 trilllion bugs.

This includes 400 different types of bacteria from 50 families (genera). Now there is debate about if some of these bacteria are bad for you. Some are thought to cause sickness of the bowel (cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease etc) but there is no conclusive proof.

These bacteria seem to help absorption of fluid and electrolytes, increase blood flow to bowel and helpful in increasing muscular activity so your waste moves through quicker.

Now some questions spring to mind:
  • Where to these bugs come from? I remember a talk I once heard about breast milk, how it contained bacteria. The types of bacteria in the milk only varied slightly across cultures. Thus breast milk may help populate babies digestive tracts
  • What happens when you take antibiotics? It is likely that antibiotics don't kill all bacteria species. However what enables the bacteria that is killed to re populate the bowel.
  • Do the bacteria we eat with our food helpful in digesting that type of food? I have noticed that fruits such as apples often have some "mold" looking stuff on the outside when they are picked from the tree. Does this contain bacteria that is helpful in digesting apples?
Probotics are bacteria that is thought to be good for your bowel bacteria. The most commonly known strains are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. These are the ones printed on yogurt containers. It seems to be taken for granted that these bacteria grow and multiply in the bowel and they are benefitial to your body. Both of these do not seem to be backed up by scientific studies. Firstly these two bacteria do get to the bowel, but seem to only produce a transient colonisation. Thus these bacteria do not make a long term difference to the bowel bacteria. This would imply that these types of bacteria are not needed by adults or adults do not eat enough "healthy" foods to support these benefial bacteria.

I find it amazing that I have believed these bacteria to be good for you without seeing any scientific study to justify this. Once again we have assumptions about our food that is not backed up by science.

I do however recommend that you get into lactic acid fermentation (I haven't quite got to this myself!) as you are preserving food by growing up bugs. So even though nutrients might be decreasing as it is aging, the bacteria are increasing. These bacteria have B vitamins and other goodness. So to be it is a wise way to preserve food.

Reference: Topping SDL, Brown IL, Bird AR. Probiotics, prebiotics and the large bowel. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society of Australia 2000; 24:39-42.

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