Want Health? Feed the Bacteria Living Inside You

Antibiotics, processed foods aren't helping

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted May 19, 2013 10:16 AM CDT

(Newser) – Don't look now, but roughly 100 trillion bacteria live in and on your body. According to scientists, these microbes—especially the ones in your gut—may be fending off chronic diseases, moderating your weight, and strengthening your immune system. But our society's processed foods and war on bacteria are posing a threat to these bacterial squatters, writes Michael Pollan in the New York Times Magazine. "As a civilization, we’ve just spent the better part of a century doing our unwitting best to wreck the human-associated microbiota," he writes. A few highlights:

  • A single course of antibiotics can alter your microbial gut community, at least for a while. Scary fact: Kids get an average of 10 to 20 courses before turning 18, and ingest more antibacterials from meat, milk, and surface water.
  • Gut microbes like to eat—so they make sure to regulate our appetite and digestion to suit their own needs. If your microbial ecosystem gets screwed up, it could lead to obesity.
  • Unhealthy microbial communities may cause inflammation—and scientists say inflammation is a common denominator in chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and possibly cancer.
  • Scientists are reacting to all this by making lifestyle changes, including fewer antibiotics for kids, more outdoor play, less processed foods, and more relaxed sanitary habits at home. They also feed their families more whole grains, plants, vegetables, and fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Click for Pollan's full article. (Or see what Madonna thinks of all this.)

A child with a mouthful of corn and dirt.
A child with a mouthful of corn and dirt.   (Shutterstock)
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Justin Sonnenburg, a microbiologist at Stanford, suggests that we would do well to begin regarding the human body as 'an elaborate vessel optimized for the growth and spread of our microbial inhabitants.' - Michael Pollan, New York Times Magazine

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