Home In-Depth Feature The Bacteria Stereotype – Emblem of Evil?

The Bacteria Stereotype – Emblem of Evil?


By Carol Richardson | April 4th, 2017

Bacteria the Thug

Bacteria has gotten a bad wrap throughout the years. When most people think of bacteria, they think infections, sickness, and negative things that can come from bacteria. The truth is not all bacteria is created equal — and certainly, not all bacteria is bad. The human body is actually loaded with billions of cells of beneficial bacteria that help it with bodily functions like digestion, immune system function, and even balancing the delicate skin balance.

In fact, there are 10 times the amount of bacteria living in the human body than actual human cells. There are around 10 trillion cells in a human body — but living within that bodily system is 100 trillion cells of bacteria. It makes sense that we would need to keep that bacteria in the right balance for optimal health.

As science continues to find out more about the balance of bacteria in the human body — and in the world in general — more products are being developed to restore the balance of good and bad bacteria. Here are some common and growing uses for beneficial bacteria.

Operation Digestion

The most commonly known use for beneficial bacteria is for digestion. The human digestive tract is full of bacteria that aid in breaking down the food and processing the nutrients. There is a delicate balance between bacteria, yeast, and food within the digestive tract that is often compromised by antibiotics that kill off all flora — regardless of its function. Gut flora and bacteria can also be put off balance by alcohol, food allergies, environmental toxins (chemicals like BPA, industrial cleaners, etc.), and other factors.

To help keep the bacteria in proper balance, probiotics can be taken. Probiotics are certain strains of bacteria that have been identified by science as beneficial for the digestive system like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium. Probiotics can be administered in a supplement or pill form — these can be found in grocery, drug, and health food stores.

Another good way to get a dose of gut-healthy probiotics is to drink fermented beverages or eat fermented food. The fermentation process turns the sugars in food into beneficial probiotic bacteria. Fermented foods include yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Fermented beverages include kombucha and kefir. Probiotic foods and drink are sometimes a better way to get a dose of beneficial bacteria because the cultures are still live. The bacteria in supplements — unless refrigerated — can sometimes die off before they are consumed.

In more extreme situations where gut bacteria has been severely compromised, fecal microbiota transplants (FMT) have started to become more commonplace. A fecal transplant is a treatment where fecal material from one person’s healthy colon is transplanted to a person with an unhealthy colon. The bacteria from the healthy person can help repopulate the beneficial bacteria in the colon and help the recipient heal their gut. This type of treatment is often helpful for people who have undergone heavy medical treatments that have eliminated all their gut bacteria like: long-term antibiotics, chemotherapy, and radiation.

Fecal transplants have been a practice for centuries, but haven’t gained modern medicine’s interest until more recent years. In 2013, the FDA classified FMT as a Investigational New Drug (IND) and a Biologic — limiting transplants to physicians with an IND approval. That was recently overturned in 2017, changing the policy that fecal transplants could be performed by any physician with signed consent from patient and stool donor. This is overall good news as the current studied success rate for fecal transplants is 90%.

Operation Skin Care

The role of bacteria in the gut and digestive system is better known publicly, but there are beneficial bacteria all over the body. One of the ways beneficial bacteria is being utilized in skin care. More and more research is showing that to clear up skin conditions — like acne, eczema, etc — is to add beneficial bacteria rather than eliminate all of it.

The National Institutes of Health is currently seeking candidates for a clinical trial to test out adding beneficial bacteria to skin in the treatment of eczema. In the National Institutes of Health’s research so far, it’s been discovered that sufferers of eczema had lower levels of beneficial bacteria on average. The theory is that helping balance the levels of bacteria will help the body fight off the non-beneficial microbes that cause eczema. If successful, the National Institutes of Health are hoping to develop a bacteria-based treatment for eczema that runs around $100.

The research on eczema patients will hopefully lead to further developments of other skin and body infections. The team at the National Institute’s for Health is hopeful that the research will show beneficial bacteria treatments are effective in treating staph infections.

While eczema and staph infections are a nightmare, there’s an even more commonplace skin annoyance that could be helped by beneficial bacteria: acne. Every teenagers nightmare and many adults constant battle, acne is an epidemic. For decades, doctors have thought killing the bacteria would help fight off acne — but for many people it just does not work. Or killing off all the bacteria caused other problems.

Now research is showing that adding beneficial bacteria onto the skin could help clear up acne. A team lead by Huiying Li of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles did a study of bacteria on the skin with 49 participants with acne and 52 with clear skin. The researchers discovered that study participants with clear skin had one strain of bacteria — or had more of one kind of strain — that the acne sufferers did not. These findings have lead to the development of acne treatments containing bacteria. There are multiple lines of skin care now boasting probiotic care for the skin like NERD skincare and Motherdirt. Even big name skincare brands like L’oreal, Estee Lauder, and Clinique have started to produce probiotic lines.

The bacteria research is not only promoting the use of beneficial bacteria in skincare, but also working towards eliminating antibacterial chemicals in soaps and other products. Killing off all bacteria may be doing more harm than good in the long run when it comes to skin and the human body in general.

Operation Balance – Don’t Stereotype All Bacteria

Applying beneficial bacteria to the body makes perfect sense to restore the proper balance, but how does that balance get off in the first place? Commonly it’s from over-cleaning the body — antibacterial soap, antibiotics, etc — but it can also be from over cleaning the home. Toxic chemicals like bleach can eliminate the germs in a home, but also wipe out beneficial bacteria. Humans also evolved to absorb probiotics and minerals from the soil, but now that we live in clean houses we’ve removed that beneficial dirt.

A growing number of household cleaners are being made with probiotics to help keep a healthy balance of bacteria in the home. Benefits of using probiotics to clean mean using less toxic chemicals to maintain a clean home. Reintroducing beneficial bacteria with probiotics cleansers can keep the harmful microbes — like mold — from over growing. When all microbes are eliminated using harsh cleaners, it can cause an overgrowth of things like mold because there is nothing to fight off the bad microbes.

The idea behind probiotic home products is that a balanced environment offers the perfect springboard to a balanced body.

Questions, Comments, or Suggestions? Email me at carol.richardson@thenewsreflection.com

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