BacteriaProbiotics form part of the Microbiome – the vast array of beneficial bacteria, yeasts and fungi that live inside us – and off us – without harming us. In fact, these bacteria form beneficial arrangement with us ~ These are our friends with benefits.

We feed them, house them and tolerate them. They munch up our digested food, make a few really important vitamins and help our bowels move daily. In fact we lose some in our stools every day, but this doesn’t bother these little fellas because they live in communities and they have plenty of brothers and sisters to keep them going. But as we are discovering, they are doing alot more than just keeping our bowel healthy. These bacteria are also talking to our immune system, affecting our brain function and adjusting our appetite. We have evolved to house certain species of bacteria that help us rather than harm us.

Many of these colonise the inner layer of the gut, the gut mucosa. This is a mucous lining produced by the gut wall to protect itself. If this mucous barrier is looked after then our gut health is generally good. If this mucous layer has holes in it then our gut health becomes compromised. It appears that these ‘good’ bacteria adhere to this lining and essentially live in this slime, keeping it intact. They feed off these mucopolysaccharides plus the fibre we eat and colonise the gut permanently. Other types of bacteria live in the middle of the bowel and depending on what types of food we eat, can change daily. If we alter the amount of carbohydrate, fat or protein we eat then these bacteria types also change. According to research the more diversity we have in our diet the better diversity we have in gut bacteria. Diversity of bacterial species is being shown to beneficial to our health – more is better. Essentially it is like a forest, the more types of species we have the better it functions as an ecosystem. The more species, the better are OUR health benefits.

It seems that different bacteria play different roles in our guts. Some are like controllers guiding and assisting the others. Some play key roles in talking to the nervous system that also lines the gut. Others create or control histamine reactions both in the gut as well as in other parts of the body. Some find their ways to other parts of the body like the mammary glands or the urogenital system & skin. All of them are essentially keeping the bad guys out by keeping the pH slightly acidic.

So who are the bad guys then and what happens when thy dominate – Like any culture, when bad guys take over its not good for the ecosystem as a whole. Crime, security and warfare starts to take hold of the society. Good guys get killed off easily by certain factors such as antibiotics, alcohol, preservatives in food and a lack of fibre in the diet. Once the bad guys take hold they start gaining traction, and when they take over the roles of the good guys, things get messy. The gut lining can start to get irritated and can react to things that it didn’t before {food intolerance’s} the immune system can become hyper-reactive and the brain function can also be affected. Scientists are starting to discover more and more what types of bacteria the gut needs and how to reverse a depleted microbiome as well as the consequences of not doing so. We find this extremely exciting for holistic health care.

Simone Reddington is the founder of the Apothecary, a Medical Herbalist and thinker. She holds a degree in Psychology and is a professional member of the New Zealand Association of Medical Herbalists.