We each have a mighty force of trillions of tiny microorganisms—helpful bacteria and other microbes—living on our skin, in our digestive system, and in tissues throughout the body, that is constantly on guard to defend us against potentially invasive infectious disease-causing pathogens like viruses, yeasts, parasites and harmful bacteria.
Discounted for many years by the medical establishment, scientists are now beginning to discover how much we depend on these “good bugs.” Not only do they synthesize vitamins and amino acids and help us to digest and absorb our food, they are also an indispensable part of our immune system.
Before a pathogen—bacterial, viral, or fungal—can get into your bloodstream, where it can replicate and become increasingly virulent, it must first get past the formidable fortress created by your skin and mucus membranes.
The skin isn’t just a physical barrier; it is an immune system organ, where immune cells and good bugs work together to conquer potential invaders.
Any openings through the skin barrier—eyes, ears, mouth and gastrointestinal tract, nose and respiratory system, genitals, and organs of elimination—are coated with thick layers of mucus. This mucus contains a high concentration of good bugs and immune cells. The mucus traps and immobilizes would-be invaders, while good bugs and immune cells poison, engulf, puncture, or otherwise destroy and eliminate them. About 80% of this occurs in the mucus membranes lining your gastrointestinal tract, mostly in your intestines.
Good bugs stimulate the production of mucus; create food for intestinal cells to keep the intestinal barrier strong; secrete toxins that kill harmful invaders; and strengthen, activate and increase our number of immune cells.
Unfortunately this powerful force ain’t what it used to be. Why? Stress, poor diets, toxins and other medications contribute, but the problem is primarily caused by antibiotics.
Modern medicine claims antibiotics are one of its greatest achievements. Beyond Health’s Raymond Francis believes they are one of its greatest blunders.
Although antibiotics can kill harmful bacteria, the collateral damage is immense.
Antibiotics kill helpful along with harmful bacteria, while they leave viruses, parasites and yeasts intact. Less favorable bacteria grow back, and yeast populations which are harmless in small numbers often overgrow, creating alarming new health problems that may plague us for a lifetime!
A better way to defeat pathogenic bacteria is to maintain a strong immune system. Historically this was done with a nutrient-dense diet, avoiding toxins, getting enough sleep and exercise, strengthening social ties and meditating to buffer stress, and eating cultured (fermented) foods rich in probiotics (special microbes that maintain and restore the body’s beneficial bacteria). Such foods include raw sauerkraut, kefir, real yogurt (not the kind in today’s supermarkets), raw pickles, and kim chi.
If a particularly virulent bacteria overwhelmed these strong defenses, our ancestors used antimicrobial herbs like garlic, olive leaf, and berberine to support their natural immunity while causing minimal damage to helpful microbe populations.
Look for the next article in this series to learn how to use probiotic foods and supplements to maintain or restore your immune system.