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Think Pro-bacteria!

by Bonnie Rostan |

Last year more than 28,000 people died from the pathogenic bacteria Clostridium Difficile (C. Diff.), the majority of which succumbed after using antibiotics to treat other infections. In some regions of the United States, C. Diff. now supersedes MRSA (Staphylococcus aureus) as the most common infection people acquire during hospitalization. Antibiotics destroy bacteria indiscriminately, eliminating both the targeted bacteria and beneficial bacteria that colonize the digestive tract, leaving it vulnerable to infection by C. Diff.

The human child enters the world a sterile creature. She acquires bacteria as she leaves her mother’s body and consumes food from her mother’s breast. As the beneficial bacteria travel through her digestive tract, they colonize the walls of her gut. Once the beneficial bacteria establish a community, they help nourish her by making essential vitamins and breaking down food particles. They also reduce inflammation and protect her from infection by pathogenic bacteria by stimulating an immune response. In exchange, beneficial bacteria receive a moist, warm home where they can flourish. These bacteria eventually comprise as much as 90 percent of the cells within a person’s body.

Unfortunately, antibiotics disturb this mutually beneficial relationship. Physicians prescribe antibiotics to treat a litany of infections, including C. Diff. When a patient takes antibiotics to treat C. Diff. they continue a vicious cycle of destroying beneficial bacteria, which leaves them even more vulnerable to infection, resulting in a high rate of recurrence of the C. Diff. infection, when they use antibiotics as their treatment.  In one recent case, a woman suffered for eight months with C. Diff., losing more than 60 pounds. After treating her with multiple rounds of antibiotics, her physician proposed an alternate approach, a bacterial transplant from her husband’s gut. She chose this option, and it worked. His beneficial bacteria flourished within her body, and the C. Diff. disappeared.

Many people choose to support a community of beneficial bacteria within their bodies by eating lacto-fermented foods. These foods, a wonderful source of beneficial bacteria, have historically offered an important option for food storage as the process produces an acidic environment that preserves food and is conducive to probiotic growth. Yogurt, poi, sauerkraut, and kim chee are all traditional lacto-fermented foods. Many people preserve foods at home using lactic fermentation. For example, cabbage carries the bacteria necessary for lactic fermentation on its leaves. To make sauerkraut, simply place cabbage covered with salt water into a jar for a few days at room temperature.

As recognition of the importance of beneficial bacteria grows, so does the availability of commercial foods containing them. When searching for lacto-fermented food at the store, look for labels that list bacteria such as acidophilus, bifidus and bulgaricus. Foods containing beneficial bacteria may also be labeled “Probiotic” or “Contains Live Active Cultures.”

People also build their beneficial bacteria with a probiotic supplement taken orally, or as a colonic implant. Oral supplements are now widely available and vary by the strains of bacteria contained, ingredients, and their sensitivity to heat. A colon hydrotherapist can also directly implant beneficial bacteria through probiotics after a cleansing of the bowel. This increases the potential for the beneficial bacteria to contact the walls of the colon, where they can establish colonies.

Long hidden by the scary shadow of pathogenic bacteria, beneficial bacteria are gaining recognition as an important component of a healthy digestive system, and many people are turning from an antibiotic outlook to a probiotic lifestyle.


  1. Bentley, Nancy Lee.  Truly Cultured: Rejuvenating Taste, Health, and Community with Naturally Fermented Foods. IBJ Custom Publishing; Indianapolis, 2007.
  2. Doron, Shira, and Sherwood L. Gorbach.  Probiotics: Their Role in the Treatment and Prevention of Disease.  Expert Review of Anti-Infective Therapies.  4(2), 261-275.  2006.
  3. Mullen, Frank Jr..  Hospital-Acquired Infection on Rise in Nevada.  Reno Gazette-Journal.  July 25, 2010.
  4. Zimmer, Carl.  How Microbes Defend and Define Us.  The New York Times.  July 12, 2010.

For more information, contact Bonnie Rostan at the Reno Alternative Health Care Center at (775) 827-6888.