Many years ago I visited a friend who’s twin girls were prematurely born and needed to be cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit. I was so surprised to be able to actually enter the ward after a good hand wash and was even more surprised when I learned that all of the babies feeding equipment was simply washed with warm soapy water and air dried to clean it. Regardless of the babies in this ward being very susceptible to infection, no hand sanitisers or sterilising solutions were used.
I try to keep my posts simple and practical so if you can just bare with me, I’ll get to the point in a moment, (one that may just change the way you think about health and the food you eat). Moving along…just recently I’ve been reading about the Human Microbiome Project where the amount and diversity of microorganisms (germs) present on and inside of the human body were studied. It’s pretty complexed business as you’d imagine, but it is being increasingly understood that the human genome at approximately 23,000genes, plays host to a complex microbial genome of at least 1 million genes. It seems that the human body is seriously outnumbered by the germs that live on and in it; and this is a good thing, here’s why…
We need microflora (germs)
Microflora is essential for life, taking care of many functions within the human body and reducing the need for our own genes to carry out these activities. It seems that a healthy human has evolved mechanisms to selectively allow certain micro flora to colonise and to stop others from doing so. In fact, there are just six categories of bacteria that typically colonise humans, each fulfilling various roles and functions. For example, those that colonise the gut assist in the digestion and extraction of nutrients from food and the excretion of toxins (amongst many other things). I’m sure the germ phobes are cringing right about now?
How to coexist with germs (the beneficial and the not so beneficial)?
As you might have guessed from my much simplified, but still slightly complexed explanation of the nature of the human body and all that resides there, playing host to these organisms and maintaining good health is a balancing act. It is not so simple as some microbes are ‘good‘ and others ‘bad‘. In fact it seems that some microbes play a positive role on one hand and on the other, can also function as a pathogen (a germ that causes disease). For example; emerging evidence suggests that the presence of the once considered detrimental H.pylori in the stomachs of children, may also be protective against them developing allergies. So having a healthy body is so much more than simply eliminating ‘bad’ bugs (which may also play a protective role).
Let’s begin with an analogy. I like to garden and grow some of my own produce. In order to produce healthy, abundant produce I need to have good soil (with lots of microorganisms), water, sun, appropriate use of fertilisers and selective control of pest and weeds. The simple fact is that the human body has evolved with and alongside bugs and germs. Like a garden, it needs to be nurtured and this innate balance respected.
Sadly, we have become a society influenced by clever marketing and alarmist media leading us to look to sterilise our environment and our bodies with antibacterial everything – soaps, cleaning products, lotions and potions. Even when treating illness we are fighting against normal bodily processes with anti – everything (anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, antihistamines, antacids, antidepressants etc;). Before you all write to me telling me that these pharmaceuticals are necessary and sometimes life saving; I agree that when necessary, they are essential. But all to often I’m confronted with patients, who, for example are being treated with antibiotics without firm evidence of bacterial infection. Very often the body needs support of its own healing mechanisms rather than over-riding them all together.
Even our food chain has become largely sterile. Our dairy is sterilised, in fact, any food that comes packaged is sterile. Say for example a jar of baby food (pureed apple for arguments sake) with a shelf life of many months. If you make a fresh apple puree and put it in your own jar and sit it on the shelf, it will be off (growing bacteria) within a day or so because it is not sterile – it is fresh, live, real food (good for your baby and also good for other living organisms)!
I’m always wary of food that doesn’t rot or deteriorate. I’ve already told the story of the 6year old fast food burger, dehydrated but not deteriorated or rotted at all. I also love the experiment of the butter that ants flock to, but margarine they won’t touch.
For the sake of our human ecology, this is why we need to limit processed foods and eat S.L.O.W (seasonal, local, organic, whole) foods that our body recognises and needs to function optimally. So like my garden, we need to maximise our health by supporting our digestive flora, I’ve written about that here and have a few fabulous recipes that support its growth coming up. Minimise our stress, provide our bodies with bioavailable nutrients (real food, our fertiliser) and avoid any unnecessary use of antimicrobial medication. Practice good hygiene, warm soapy water will do (if it’s good enough for tiny vulnerable premature babies), it’s good enough for you. Move outside, breath fresh air, drink lots of water. By looking after our microbiome (the germs that live on our body), we can support our body to function in harmony with our germs!
I just wanted to share with you the principles that govern the Naturopathic approach to treating a patient (might explain my thinking in this and many of my posts):
The healing power of nature
Trust in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.
Identify and treat the causes
Look beyond the symptoms to the underlying cause.
First, do no harm
Utilise the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies.
Doctor as teacher
Educate patients in the steps to achieve and maintaining health (I value my role here and it drives me in writing for Well Nourished).
Treat the whole person
View the body as an integrated whole in all its physical and spiritual dimensions.
Focus on overall health, wellness and disease prevention.
Lots of questions or even objections I’m sure. I have so many thoughts flowing through my head at the moment on this topic, I hope this kind of makes sense? You can post your comments below…