Most people are unaware of the 2kg’s of 400 different species of micro-organisms teeming within their intestinal tracts. Food and water consumed on a daily basis contain large amounts of these unseen microorganisms. Most are excreted as dry-weight faecal matter. The stomach contains small amounts, if any, of these microorganisms due to a formidable acid barrier that minimizes their survival; however, as food travels through the intestinal tract, the number and varieties of microorganisms increase. The large intestine, which includes the colon, houses the greatest number of micro-organisms and the widest assortment.
A complex social structure and a diverse pecking order exist among these microorganisms. It is important to know how to effectively encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria while minimizing the proliferation of the unfriendly ones. Beneficial bacteria, also referred to as lactic bacteria, are single-celled organisms which occur singly, in pairs and in short chains. They have the ability to transform sugar into lactic acid. Beneficial bacteria are abundant in nature and are extremely useful. Their capacity to survive through the gastrointestinal tract in spite of gastric acidity and bile salt toxicity is essential for beneficial bacteria to have any biological effect on the body. They are normally present in the skin, the mouth, the digestive system and the vaginal mucosa of humans, where they perform numerous and indispensable functions to protect their hosts against harmful bacteria.
When beneficial bacteria turn lactose (milk sugar) into lactic acid, the lactic acid functions as a digestive antiseptic and facilitates the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in milk products more efficiently. When the population of beneficial bacteria in the intestine is increased, vitamin B6 is produced. This function helps boost the immune system. Beneficial bacteria minimize the proliferation of many dangerous pathogens responsible for illness or death by competing with them for homes on the intestinal walls.
Unfriendly microorganisms come in many varieties: hostile (disease-causing) and chameleons (beneficial or neutral under certain conditions but capable of becoming unfriendly if allowed to spread and grow too quickly). Chameleon microorganisms allowed to proliferate may become harmful by creating an infection or by assisting hostile microorganisms in accelerating an illness. One good example of a chameleon microorganism is the yeast, Candida albicans. Normally, yeast organisms comprise 10% of the 2kgs of microorganisms in our intestinal tract. When the delicate balance of friendly microorganisms, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum are upset, yeast proliferates rapidly. This aggressive and uncontrolled growth allows the yeast to actually change its form to a pathogenic fungus, which can trigger a host of symptoms and health problems.
Another chameleon microorganism is Bacillus cereus, a soil bacteria that can cause nausea, abdominal cramps and diarrhoea. Found in cereals, herbs and dried foods, this microorganism is harmless unless its spores are allowed to multiply uncontrollably.