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Maintaining Bacterial Balance in an Over Sanitized World

by Dr. Melissa Sonners 

Bacteria, viruses and fungi are important.  They are, and will always be, a part of our world.  We have to work with them, not against them.  

Amidst coronavirus, it is obviously an important time to implement drastic cleansing protocols, etc.  At the same time, I can’t help but wonder about the long term effects all of this will cause, and want to help people implement strategies now to help prevent any damage caused by destroying our microbiome. 

The microbiome is the genetic material of all the microbes – bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses – that live on and inside the human body. The number of genes in all the microbes in one person’s microbiome is 200 times the number of genes in the human genome.  What does this mean? Many are now saying that even more than our genes, the health of a person’s microbiome dictates their overall health.

Conclusion: Our microbiome is pretty important. 

We have “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria and the symbiosis of both is essential for our health.  Studies show that a healthy balance of bacteria is not only essential for our immune system, but plays a major role in anxiety, depression, autism, cancer and much more. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6102370/)  The sole purpose of probiotic supplements is to help our “good” bacteria flourish. Over sanitizing and overusing antibiotics has wreaked havoc on our microbiome and gut flora, and has caused major damage to our immune system.

So, during this time, what can we do to stay safe, limit exposure and also maintain balance in our microbiome? 

It’s possible to make changes in just one day!  Best-selling author Dr. Christiane Northrup says that the average lifespan of bacteria in your gut is just 20 minutes, so you have the opportunity to replenish and enhance your bacteria with every meal.  Read more at https://www.drnorthrup.com/how-to-improve-your-gut-microbiome-in-a-day/.

Another simple tip:  Use soap and water whenever possible instead of hand sanitizer.  Our skin is one of our largest and most absorptive organs, meaning whatever goes on us, goes in us. If you aren’t near a sink and must use hand sanitizer, be sure to select one that is free of fragrance and free of triclosan, a known endocrine (hormone disruptor) that contributes to making bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Using hand sanitizers may actually lower your resistance to diseases by killing good bacteria, which helps protect against bad bacteria.  More about hand sanitizers can be read here:

https://www.thestreet.com/markets/5-hidden-dangers-of-hand-sanitizers-12966410

And here are my five easy ways to enhance your microbiome: 

  1. Eat a variety of foods.  It’s not the amount of each healthy food, it’s the variety.  In our home, we “eat the rainbow” and aim to get all the colors of the rainbow each day, if not at every meal. This helps limit (especially for kids) the “beige- only” typical American diet of chicken fingers, crackers, bread, fries, etc.  For adults, have a goal of incorporating new vegetables into your salad, or chop up a variety of vegetables, keep them in a big baggie in your freezer and each day add a handful of them to a smoothie.  It’s an easy and effective way to get in a variety of fiber sources for your microbiome. If you can get your kids to do this as well (ahem, hide it while blending like I do) it will also help minimize food sensitivities, allergies and picky eating.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091674919314101
  2. As much as possible, lower your stress – at a time like this that can be tricky.  My favorite way to lower stress is to pick a couple of things each day that make me happy and be sure to carve out time for them.  Going for a walk, sitting in nature, phoning a friend, meditation, breathing, watching a funny show, laughing, coloring, etc., are all great ways to lower our stress. 
  3. Eat fermented foods.  Fermented foods help seed the gut with healthy bacteria.  Some great options are sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, kefir and kombucha. 
  4. Avoid antacids.  We need our stomach acid for digestion of our nutrients.  If you have gas, bloating and other symptoms of acidic stomach you can try a digestive enzyme.
  5. Limit sugar and processed foods.  These foods are often digested too quickly and don’t allow the microbiome to “eat.” The microbiome and bacteria then become hungry and essentially feed on the cells and lining of your gut contributing to leaky gut.  Be sure to get your carbohydrates from fruits and vegetables whenever possible. 

As I have often said, this isn’t the first time we are dealing with a major virus and it won’t be the last.  I hope we are all realizing that we can’t sit around and wait for a magic pill to save us.  There are many things we can do each day to help optimize our health, enhance our immune system and increase our chances of being able to handle the viruses we are constantly exposed to.