microorganismsWHAT ARE YOU MADE OF? The cells in your body – the ones that you can call your own – number about ONE HUNDRED TRILLION. That’s a lot of cells. In addition, there are a like number of guests IN and ON our bodies. Those numbers are a lot more than I can even imagine. Still, it is factual and something to at least consider when trying to attain the best health.

While it might seem creepy that we are hosts so many foreign entities, the little hitchhikers are usually very helpful to us. Most of the creatures make their home in our digestive system – all the way from the opening on our face to the exit on our – oh well, you get the picture. The tube that runs from entrance to exit is well over 20 feet long. The things that live there with us are responsible for digesting food and extracting nutrients. When anything happens to upset that balance of organisms in our gut we can get sick. Sometimes we might have a mild bellyache. At other times a disruption can be fatal.

The organisms in the digestive systems represent just about every kind of microorganism known. They are usually in very good balance and that’s very good for us. Occasionally, though, something can upset the balance and we can find ourselves with a serious health problem to deal with.

How the heck did those organisms get in there? Before birth, our digestive system was just about as clean as it would ever be. We picked up some beneficial bacteria during the actual birth process. No, you sure can’t see any of the organisms. They’re microscopic in size. We also get a good dose when we start eating – first with breast milk (if we’re so lucky to have been nursed) and later along with the various foods we begin to eat. The reason why the youngest babies get so little variety is that they just don’t have the bacteria in their gut to digest other foods. Those little helper organisms take time to establish in the gut and grow to a useful number. It’s best to take it easy and add foods slowly, allowing the gut to develop optimally.

For the most part, our bacterial visitors stay in good shape. Once in awhile, though, they can get disturbed. The balance between the good guys and the bad gets interrupted and we can suffer. Little things can upset the balance. Think about the issues in the press about food poisoning – bacteria that we eat. It gets “down there” with our balanced populations of bacteria and starts multiplying. The food poisoning bugs soon grow to large numbers. Our own defense systems – and our good bacteria – fight to regain balance. Sometimes it happens relatively quickly – a bout of diarrhea can clean out a lot of the bad guys in a fairly short period of time. Nausea and vomiting can also physically remove the offending bacteria. In some serious situations the body uses both openings in its effort to rid us of offending bugs.

Antibiotics are another agent that can disrupt our bacteria balance. Antibiotics are very helpful, but they don’t know the difference between the bad bacteria they are supposed to kill and the ones that are good to us. When the drug hits the gut it is ready for action. It can destroy indiscriminately and we can lose large amounts of good bacteria – as well as the eradication of the bad ones.

Antibiotics can upset the balance even when they are administered by injection, or when they are used as a sinus or nasal rinse. Just because they aren’t dumped into the gut in a pill doesn’t mean that they don’t end up there. Drugs that can pass FROM the gut INTO the blood can also pass back the other way. Regardless of the mechanism, our good bacteria are under attack every day.

Our goal, then, should be to make sure that the balance favors the good guys over the ones that harm us. In recent years, we’ve discovered that bacteria that help us make fermented food, like yogurt or sauerkraut, can improve the population of good guys in digestive system. Doctors and pharmacists have been recommending yogurt for antibiotic users for decades – with good results. Today we have an even better option. The companies that supply the cultures to make yogurt have begun packaging those bacterial cultures into tablets and capsules and they are available to us now.

RECOMMENDATION: I strongly urge everyone to take a good probiotic capsule every day. When under stress, or using an antibiotic, I suggest 2 to 4 capsules daily. The brand we recommend is Florajen 3. It delivers over 15 BILLION colony-forming units in each capsule. That’s a long way from 9 TRILLION, but we have to keep in mind that these bacteria are alive and active – and they will multiply in our GI tract.

I recommend taking probiotics with clean water, on an empty stomach.

Why? First, most city water contains chemicals that can harm the good bacteria in the capsules. Second, taking them on an empty stomach facilitates their passing THROUGH the stomach into the intestines — where they do their best work.

Give your body the help it needs to stay healthy. Take a quality probiotic, like Florajen 3. I take mine every day and we always make sure we carry a supply when we travel.

IMPORTANT: Florajen 3 contains live colony forming units. They should be stored under refrigeration to maintain maximum potency. However, they really are hearty little critters. If you leave a bottle out, or even take a short vacation, Florajen 3 will maintain its potency for quite some time. I wouldn’t suggest leaving it in a hot car or room for very long, but normal temperatures don’t seem to do any significant harm. The colony forming units are viable and active up to two weeks without refrigeration. Still, keep them cold whenever possible. And, don’t worry excessively about it.