Stop worrying so much about germs.
They’re good for you.
June 8th, 2016 by Holly Cornish
Are you a “germophobe?”
I confess I’m one – I wash my hands more frequently than an OCD patient, use hand sanitizer, dread using public restrooms – the whole bit.
We’re probably making a mistake. Most germs are harmless, and in fact a great many are good for us. We’ve been too successful at killing off the variety of organisms in our “microbiome” – the vast collection of microbes that live on and in our bodies.
Those of us who live in more developed countries have a less diverse microbiome than do people in poorer countries who put up with a little dirt and don’t worry about it. It would make more sense to focus on avoiding cold and flu viruses – generally spread from hand to hand, and most common during the cold months of the year.
Don’t obsess quite so much about restroom germs, the occasional insect that wanders across your food, or a kid putting his dirty hands into his mouth. We don’t live in an age of cholera and typhoid epidemics – killer diseases spread by sewage contamination. Those days are long gone.
Now comes a newly discovered benefit of a few extra germs – a diverse microbiome: it raises your vitamin C levels – and a whole lot more. Here’s the scoop. . .
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Lung Cancer. It’s the #1 cancer killer worldwide… with a survival rate of just 2% in late stages. So when Tim Ashcroft was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in 2012, he thought his days were numbered.
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The recent discovery about intestinal microbes, reported in May 2015, flies in the face of cherished beliefs about vitamin C. It’s a belief you probably still cling to.
We’ve long been told our bodies can’t produce certain nutrients, and therefore we must get them from our food.
Turns out that’s only partly true. Breaking research is turning many long-standing scientific and medical beliefs on their heads.
Startling new way our bodies produce nutrients
A paper published last year in the journal Current Opinion on Biotechnology (COB) focused on how healthy bacteria in your gut are capable of producing various vitamins, including vitamin C, which then fortify your gut and fill nutritional gaps.
When constantly exposed to environmental and nutritional assaults, your own genes cannot provide your body with certain survival mechanisms. But these germs can. They’re beneficial microbes – also called probiotics – and they use what we feed them to protect us from disease.
One microbe in particular, called Corynebacterium glucuronolyticum, contains a biological pathway that’s capable of producing its own vitamin C (ascorbate).1
This bacterial strain has also been linked to urogenital infections and diphtheria. So it’s not entirely benign.
But here’s the catch. Apparently it reproduces rapidly into “infectious” proportions in the face of vitamin C starvation. But when the body is brimming with vitamin C the germ doesn’t lead to infections.
Incidentally, these germs also produce critical enzymes useful for making a number of B vitamins: biotin, riboflavin, pantothenate, thiamine and folate.
May even compensate for genetic defects
“Foreign” microbes may even compensate for genetic defects. It was recently discovered that a certain Lactobacillus strain can trigger the active methylated form of folate, called 5-methylenetetrahydrofolate, something those with the MTHFR gene mutation are poor at doing.
Emerson’s quote perhaps never rang more true: “A weed is an herb whose virtues have yet to be discovered.”
That’s also proving true of germs.
Don’t get too carried away just yet…
The incredible discovery that your body can produce vitamin C doesn’t mean your gut has the ability to produce physiologically relevant quantities of vitamin C on its own. Or any other nutrient, for that matter.
At least not that we know of yet.
So consider it a tiny help, not carte blanche permission to go out and eat a crazy diet devoid of nutrients, believing that your gut microbes can make up for deficiencies.
Remember: the scurvy so many sailors suffered was in large part due to the horrible nutrition provided by salt beef and hardtack with few other foods… rendering their biome incapable of producing even basic levels of vitamin C or anything else.
Don’t make the same mistake.
A better strategy? Do whatever’s possible to encourage these helpful germs — for many reasons… not the least of which is their special role in cancer prevention.
The future of cancer prevention?
A growing body of research now shows that the status of your intestinal flora is linked to cancer in one way or another. For better or for worse.
Recent research has led some scientists to believe that certain cancers are actually bacterial diseases. They arise from a deficiency of “good” microbes in our guts, permitting undesirable ones to run wild.
Most studies link gut dysbiosis (imbalance of “good” and “bad” microbes) to colon cancer, but they’re not sure whether dysbiosis causes colon cancer or follows it. (I’m willing to bet on “causes” but the science isn’t quite there yet.) But studies do show that one particular intestinal bug is a, if not the, key influencer in colon cancer.
Curiously, this strain of bacteria, called Bacteroidetes fragilis, is known to be able to induce spontaneous colon cancer in mice bred to mimic the growth of multiple polyps in humans.
There’s more: Fusobacterium nucleatum is linked to gum disease and colorectal cancer. The bacterial phyla of Firmicutes and Proteobacteria are also linked to precancerous polyps.
Further, the well-known E. coli and Enterococcus faecalis may be able to change your DNA, cause inflammation, and activate carcinogens.
On the other hand, “good” bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium can reduce inflammation, protect against DNA damage, and stop cancer-causing enzymes. These microbes are commonly found in probiotic supplements.
As for treating cancer, immunotherapy has varying success rates even in genetically identical mice. So it was rather startling when University of Chicago researchers gave mice Bifidobacterium and found they fared better than with immunotherapy alone for controlling skin cancer. Combined, the two treatments essentially stopped tumor growth.2
A French study also showed that probiotics triggered an immunotherapy response that was missing without the supplements.3
Even major pharmaceutical companies are jumping in to study these trillions of bacteria that live inside you. A top Roche scientist admitted that five years ago he would’ve laughed it off. Now, they believe they’re onto something really big. What does that tell you?
Can probiotics starve cancer?
Breast cancer affects one in eight women during their lifetime. Though diet, age and genetics are known risk factors, the majority of cases don’t relate to any of those. Now scientists have good reason to believe that gut dysbiosis is the missing link, based on a 2014 study.4
An unhealthy gut microbiome may be a key factor.
Scientists now know chronic Salmonella infection is linked to gallbladder cancer.
And Chlamydia pneumonia, Haemophilus influenza, and Candida albicans are linked to lung cancer.
It’s also widely accepted that stomach cancer can be caused by Helicobacter pylori, which is likewise linked to ulcers.
So dysbiosis-driven cancers may be far more widespread than most people believe. Note that nearly all of us have H. pylori but we don’t have ulcers, much less colon cancer. These “bad” bugs pose a threat mainly when they aren’t kept in check by “good” bacteria.
One mechanism that could explain this is that dysbiosis drives Pathogen Recognition Receptors (PRR) and inflammation. Interestingly, mice with low PRR have the lowest risk of colon, pancreatic, liver, and skin cancers.
What’s more, a major role of beneficial bacteria is heightened immune function. A strong immune system can quickly clear your body of an infection that can lead to cancer.
That’s why enhancing your gut flora could prove indispensable to your overall health and predict your risk of developing disease.
But enhancing your flora can be a tad confusing. Read on, as we try to light your way.
Gut health affects practically everything
Your gut health is linked to nearly everything else about your health. Your cardiovascular system, mental health, bones, cancer, vitamins… Consider it a primary gateway to the rest of your body.
So just how do you best promote good gut health? Is yogurt the best source? If not, what is?
If yogurt is your choice, stick to unsweetened, or you’ll sabotage all your efforts, because sugar makes a mess of your gut flora and compromises your immune system. Some yogurts contain as much sugar as soda.
Plain yogurt is an acquired taste, but you’ll grow into it. Try it with some organic fruit. Always make sure it contains “live active cultures.” The best bet is to culture your own yogurt at home.
Enjoy other fermented foods raw if possible – kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, natto, miso, lassi, and tempeh all provide probiotics. Avoid buying pasteurized sauerkraut. Most health food stores carry sauerkraut with live cultures.
And boost your fiber intake; fiber aids beneficial bacteria by “feeding them well.”
If you decide to go with a probiotic supplement – which can be wise, especially if you’ve done any courses of antibiotics, are on medications, or eat low-nutrient foods – choose a broad spectrum one. Or two different brands with complementary bacterial strains.
You’re looking for a large variety of strains with high numbers of each. Different strains aid different aspects of your health.
We could write an entire dissertation on the various types. (But you probably wouldn’t want to read it.)
Reliable sources tell me some probiotic strains are stable at room temperature. If true, that would sure be convenient, especially for travel. But even if shelf stable, they’ll keep longer if kept in the refrigerator till ready to use. Personally, I buy probiotic supplements that are refrigerated in the store, and I keep them refrigerated at home. And I transport them from store to home in a cooler.
Don’t leave your microflora to chance, because doing so is leaving your health to chance. And if you’re reading this, that’s probably not good enough for you.