Germs for Health!

Fermented Vegies replace beneficial microbes back into our system

Restoring our microbial populations

For millions of years we have co-evolved with micro-organisms. In the last few decades we have found how to kill many disease causing microbes through the use of antibiotics. It has  been a huge step forward in one way....our life expectancy has gone from 60 in the 1930s when diseases like tuberculosis killed many of us-  to 79 or so now, some of which at least may be attributed to the use of antibiotics. However, at the same time, there are increasing epidemics of chronic diseases, causing much suffering and costing billions of dollars, that before were much less common.

Diseases such as asthma, uncommon in less developed countries, have been directly associated with children in modern western society being protected from the vast array of microbes that their ancestors were exposed to. We are an overly sanitised society, and many people are realising that we need to get down and dirty with germs! Germs are not all bad, and in fact are essential for our wellbeing, from our digestion to our brain function. We have over a kg of microbes living on and within each of us....this is called our microbiome...and these are critical for our wellbeing.

When a child passes through their mother’s vagina into the world, they are covered in thousands of species of bacteria, and with around a third of babies born by caesarian nowadays, many are missing out on this germ bath which we have evolved to need. On top of that, most kids receive many rounds of antibiotics in their childhood and these tend to kill off vast arrays of microbial species- many of which, it is now being realised, are needed. As we go into adulthood, it is considered fairly normal to have chronic health issues uncommon in previous generations- sinusitis, asthma, skin problems such as eczema, chronic stress, allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, even mental health and learning difficulties. It is now understood that these may be directly related to lack of appropriate microorganisms in our systems.

Science is catching up with what traditional societies have always known, although they didn’t have microscopes to see what we can now see. Traditional cultures would often preserve food with various microbial cultures- foods such as yoghurt, kefir, vinegar, beer and wine, and fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, contain many species of microbes which are beneficial for our digestive system. And they didn’t sanitise their environments and homes with antibacterial solutions as we do, so they touched and breathed in many more species than we now come in contact with. Babies played on the ground, and they frequently co-habited with animals.

When our digestive system is healthy with prolific numbers of appropriate microbes, we eat to satiety and not beyond, our immune system works well, and we can digest a wide range of foods. When we don’t have the right bugs, all hell breaks loose and not only can we not digest properly, but many other systems which rely on healthy digestion behave sub-optimally, and chronic health problems occur. It is hard to trace them directly back to lack of microbes...instead we try to treat them by killing the overrowth of bad bacteria, such as with a sinus infection and anti-biotics (always killing off the good with the bad). Instead, we need to think differently.

What if, instead of thinking of killing off all those nasty bugs.....which is the way we have been conditioned....we think in terms of living peacefully and in balance with the millions of microbes in our environment? What if, instead of trying to kill them all.....which is leading to the superbugs we feared might evolve from overuse of antibiotics.....we instead think in terms of adding back into our system the beneficial germs we need? These will balance the bad bugs and keep them under control to a large extent. This has been proven many times now in the laboratory, but also in the homes of thousands of people who are reviving the skills of homemade probiotics containing foods, such as yoghurt, kefir, beet kvass and fermented vegetables such as kimchi or sauerkraut. Our gut loves to receive probiotics in the form of food, because it recognises food. Probiotic foods are easy to prepare and can do amazing things for our health.

If you have ever had antibiotics, if you had a mother who sanitised every surface or you yourself have done so, if you havent playedi in the dirt for years, if your diet has been suboptimal and hasn’t included probiotic cultured foods, and especially if you have any of the mentioned chronic diseases or many could be of great benefit for you to make friends with germs, and include fermented foods in your diet.