I knew that one day, the world would start to recognize just how important a role intestinal and other bacteria play in our health. I think we’re starting to see what will be an avalanche of research data on the subject. But, if organized medicine holds true to form, it will be another 10 years before most patients start to benefit from this knowledge. There have been some amazing studies illustrating how your intestinal flora has a dramatic effect on your health, literally from the cradle to the grave.
Gut Flora, Babies, and Obesity
Researchers evaluated the use of antibiotics in 11,532 children born in Britain’s Avon region in 1991 and 1992. Almost 30 percent of the infants were given antibiotics sometime during the first six months of their life. The babies who were treated with antibiotics between birth to five months weighed more than those not given antibiotics. The weight difference wasn’t that dramatic at first, but by 38 months, those in the antibiotic group had a 22 percent greater likelihood of being overweight.
See a list of all articles about Gut Bacteria in the Gut Bacteria and Probiotics Index
The timing of the antibiotic use seemed to make a huge difference. If the antibiotics were given during the first five months, the children tended to be overweight, or even obese, as toddlers. When exposed to antibiotics at 6 to 14 months of age, children didn’t have a higher body mass later in childhood. And, although children exposed from the ages of 15 to 23 months had a slightly higher body mass index by age seven, it didn’t increase their likelihood of later being overweight or obese. (Int J Obes (Lond) 21 October 2012 [Epub ahead of print])
This study tells us that we apply a greater degree of nutritional science to raising our cattle than we do our children. Farmers have been utilizing antibiotics for the last 50-plus years to fatten cattle, pigs, and chickens. Types of antibiotics, dosage amounts, etc., have been scientifically worked out and applied with precision to effectively increase weight gain as quickly as possible.
Antibiotics are known as growth promoters. With antibiotic use, animals gain more weight more quickly, on less food. I’ll say that again…antibiotics stimulate growth with less food. Yet, for some reason, we’re just now “discovering” that giving antibiotics to our babies has the same result. Duh.
We’re killing the natural bacterial flora in the human body that influences how we break down and absorb various nutrients that help keep us lean and healthy. Doing it at such a critical period of development, such as early childhood, has long-lasting effects. A lifetime of fighting excess weight or obesity is probably just the tip of the iceberg. I won’t be surprised if we see other studies linking early antibiotic use to chronic digestive disorders, ADHD, skin problems, allergies, autoimmune diseases, and dozens of other problems. Don’t forget, gut microbes don’t just aid in the metabolism of food, they also synthesize vitamins and help regulate our entire immune system.
In today’s world, it’s hard enough for a baby just to get his/her bacterial flora established. The last thing we need to be doing is disrupting it.
Much of the beneficial bacteria originally pass from mother to child. Some of them transfer in the womb, and some when the baby passes through the birth canal. Antibiotic or other drug use by the mother, inferior or deficient flora from the mother, and birth by cesarean section all compromise the process. That’s why probiotics and fermented foods should be a part of the mother’s supplement program. And probiotics should be given to children as part of their formula if they’re not being breastfed. I recommend including a pinch of Natren brand Life Start probiotic powder.
Flora Diversity, Seniors, and Longevity
Another recently released study looked at the effect of gut microbes in the elderly, and the findings were just as shocking.
Researchers looked at the gut microflora of 178 elderly individuals over the age of 65 (average age 78). None were being treated with antibiotics. They found that the microbes varied extensively depending on where the individual lived and the state of their overall health.
Individuals who lived independently in the community had the most varied microbacterial flora and were the healthiest. People who lived in long-term assisted living homes had less diverse microbacterial flora and were frailer.
Here’s a direct quote from the lead researcher, Paul O’Toole, of University College Cork in Ireland: “Our findings indicate that any two given older people, independent of their starting health status and genetic makeup, could experience very different rates of health loss upon aging due to dietary choices that impact on their gut bacterial ecosystem.” (Nature 2012;488(7410):178–184)
Further study found that, although the diet changes quickly once a person moves into a long-term care facility, it takes about a year for the intestinal bacteria to change from a “community type” to the “long-term residential type.” It was during this transition time that the individuals’ health started declining the most.
O’Toole and his team analyzed blood, feces, urine, diet, physical strength, and mental function.He concluded that the change in bacteria triggered by the change in diet was a major contributing cause of their decline in health.
What makes this study so intriguing is that O’Toole linked the speed at which a person loses his or her health to a decline in the numbers and variety of intestinal bacteria.
Most nursing homes and assisted care facilities base their meals on government-issued nutritional data. Probiotics or fermented foods aren’t addressed and rarely even mentioned. Yogurt is about as close as they come to this category, and, as you know, most commercial yogurt has been pasteurized to kill bacteria and is worthless as a probiotic food. (Learn how to make your own yogurt and probiotic foods.)
Assisted care facilities and nursing homes aren’t going to change for the better anytime soon. If you have a loved one residing in one, do them a favor and keep them supplied with a good probiotic. It can be life changing, and possibly life sustaining.
Both of these studies clearly illustrate the necessity of eating fermented foods and taking probiotics. They are critical at every stage of our life
Read More About Gut Bacteria and Digestive Health
Gut Bacteria and Probiotics Article Index
See a full list of articles by Dr. Williams about gut flora, probiotics, and the microbiome. Read more
9 Ways That Good Gut Bacteria Support Your Overall Health (That Have Nothing to Do With Digestion)
Learn about the wide-ranging health effects of gut bacteria, including their influence on immune health, mood, and weight management. Read more
Signs That You Have Too Much Bad Bacteria in Your Gut
Learn about the digestive and other health symptoms that may indicate you have dysbacteriosis, or an imbalance of gut bacteria. Read more
The Importance of Gut Bacteria During Infancy
Learn how a mother's gut microflora can influence her childrens' lifelong digestive and overall health. Read more
How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement
Learn the four criteria that Dr. Williams uses to decide whether a probiotic supplement is worth purchasing. Read more
How to Restore and Improve Gut Bacteria
Learn three strategies for restoring your gut health by improving the microflora residing there. Read more
Gut Health and the Benefits of Traditional Fermented Foods
Learn four ways that the probiotic bacteria in naturally fermented foods support digestive health. Read more