Take good care of the bacteria that protect you and you may be rewarded with a long, healthy life

This column is written by Stig Bengmark – professor emeritus, researcher, lecturer and author. Read more of Stig’s columns here.

Our protective bacteria do not get the food they need on their own

Our bodies are teeming with microorganisms, especially bacteria. It may sound a bit strange, but the fact is that bacteria can be found everywhere on our bodies – on the skin, in the hair, in the vagina, in the gastrointestinal tract and in the respiratory tract – and they have a vital role to play for our health and well-being.

Actually, humans and animals are intended to be born sterile, but at the moment of birth, a baby ingests some of the mother’s bacteria (which is thereby inherited). In the next few months after birth, things the baby encounters in the external environment, and breast milk in particular, enrich the bacteria composition with several additional species, and the number of protective bacteria in a healthy body multiplies rapidly. The bacteria in your gut remain basically the same throughout your life, and an individual’s composition and pattern of protective bacteria (called the microbiome in the scientific world) are so person-specific that, in principle, you could identify a person through an analysis of their stool.

Unfortunately, we often fail to look after the needs of the microbiome to the extent that we would if we knew the terms. Quite the contrary, we have made life miserable for our bacterial friends. The protective bacteria do not get the fibre-rich, mineral-rich and antioxidant-rich food they crave – at least not in a sufficient amount – and we also expose the beneficial gut flora (microbiota) to a host of chemicals, completely against their will. Chemicals are in our food from the start or are created when the food is prepared by the food industry, or in your own kitchen (these include gluten in certain cereal grains, casein in milk and products of heating food above a certain temperature, such as acrylamide, AGE and ALE).

So, how do we get our protective bacteria to flourish?

Almost 100 years ago, a Danish researcher by the name of Hans Christian Gram observed that certain bacteria retained the colour of a stain in their shells while others did not. Bacteria that retain colour are thus called Gram-positive (Gram+), while those that do not are called Gram-negative (Gram-). The majority of Gram+ bacteria are beneficial or benign, while the majority of Gram- bacteria are cause disease and produce, e.g. poison endotoxin, which is a highly inflammatory and disease-causing agent.

The good thing about Gram-positive bacteria is that, provided that they are in an environment where they can flourish, they have the ability to suppress inflammation-promoting, disease-causing Gram-negative bacteria. However, Gram+ bacteria require a lot of minerals, especially magnesium, to grow and dominate your gut. Raw, frozen or lightly steamed kale, broccoli, spinach, beet greens, carrots and avocado are all good sources of the food the beneficial bacteria want. Foods that are especially rich in magnesium are pumpkin seeds, cacao, sesame seeds and almonds.

Under optimal conditions, there should be about one malicious bacterium per one million beneficial bacteria, but unfortunately, conditions are seldom if ever this good for those us who have adopted the modern Western lifestyle and eating habits.

In addition to crowding out the malicious bacteria, Gram+ bacteria performs a variety of positive functions, such as:

Produces short-chain water-soluble fatty acids (with only 4-5 carbon atoms) such as butyric acid and valeric acid, which is easily absorbed by and nourishes the intestinal walls. This reinforces the barrier function of the intestinal wall and prevents the gut from leaking the contents of the stool in the intestines – toxins, dead or living bacteria or bacterial toxins – into the body, a condition that is very common and can lead to disease – often called “Leaky Gut Syndrome”

Extracts a variety of nutrients – antioxidants, vitamins, important amino acids and energy – from the fresh greens we eat and then passes these on to the body. These nutrients also include sugars, which are an important source of energy for the body’s functions, especially the brain, but these types of sugar will be absorbed slowly by the body – extended over several hours – a natural, well-functioning “slow release” system.

Gram+ leaves the stage for Gram-

In conclusion, one can say that Gram-positive bacteria and Gram-negative bacteria have completely different “social” behaviour patterns. When there is not enough food and the environment is not hospitable, Gram+ politely excuses itself and quietly disappears. This hands the stage over to Gram-negative bacteria which quickly take over the environment, e.g. the gut, and resets the immune system towards a state of increased inflammation. And this bacteria does not just stay in the gut, it also infiltrates the rest of the body with toxins, bacteria (living or dead) or bacterial toxins. These bacteria ultimately reset the body’s metabolism, which is the MAIN cause of acute and chronic inflammation and infection as well as obesity and chronic disease.

If your diet is not quite perfect, there is a popular group of dietary supplements available today called probiotics, which help add extra protective bacteria to your gut. These supplements are available at your local pharmacy and in any health food store, but it is important to remember when buying probiotics that about 80% of the supplements available are totally worthless, so choose a high-quality brand and formula backed by many years of research.


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