By Marlena Norwood
Bacteria permeate our bodies – they live on our skin, in our guts, and much of our person. In fact, we are made up of ten times more bacterial cells than human cells. We couldn’t live without them!
Unfortunately, bacteria have developed a bad reputation. People are frightened by bacteria, as demonstrated by the obscene volume of antibiotics consumed and the frequency that people use antibacterial soap and sanitizer.
With this “bacteria scare” comes severe consequences. Antibiotic resistance is one of them – as we discussed a few months ago. Additionally, measures to remove bacteria from our body overlook the good bacteria that keep us alive. We want to showcase one case study where bacteria literally save lives.
Clostridium difficile is a devastating bacterial infection common in nursing homes and hospitals. It causes severe colon inflammation and bloody diarrhea, resulting in life-threatening dehydration and other side effects. C. Difficile is often fatal.
A couple years ago, people started thinking differently about how to treat this awful disease. They figured if C. Difficile was a bacterial infection of the colon, maybe you could somehow change the bacterial composition of the intestines to combat the disease. That’s exactly what a fecal transplant does – once you get over the “yuck factor.”
A fecal transplant consists of taking the healthy good-bacteria-laden feces of a family member, diluting it, and inserting it into the colon of the infected person in order to “recolonize” their intestine and wipe out all of the C. Diff bacteria. New advances allow infected individuals to ingest the good bacteria from the diluted feces in pill form. The FDA has just lifted restrictions on these transplants, and they are proving to be incredibly effective in treating C. Diff.
The media have been catching on lately, touting the wonderful promises of bacterial transplants, as seen in this article in the Seattle Times.
The example of fecal transplants shows just how helpful bacteria can be. Another recent, positive change in the bacterial mindset is the use of probiotics in yogurt and supplements.
Of course, bacteria can be incredibly dangerous, as seen in widespread outbreaks of food-borne illness and nasty infectious diseases. But it is important to recognize that bacteria are an integral part of our existence – and deserve a considerable amount of respect as one of the first life forms to inhabit Earth, dating back billions of years.
How can you take steps to switch our cultural mindset from bacteria warfare to a comfortable co-existence that recognizes our dependence on them?
- Cut down on your use of anti-bacterial soaps and hand sanitizers – scrubbing with soap and water will cleanse your hands and body enough.
- Consume a healthy amount of good bacteria through probiotic supplements or yogurt.
- Only take antibiotics if absolutely necessary and cut down on your consumption of meat (antibiotics are use extensively, and unnecessarily, in industrial agriculture).