Bacteria–They Do a Body Good


In the movie, “Stuart Little 2,” Snowbell the Cat delivers one of my favorite lines after coughing up a “major hairball”
“And still we lick ourselves. Unbelievable!”

I often think of that line as people continue to put food into their bodies that they know will cause them “issues” later. Why would you choose to eat half a tub of ice cream if you know lactose gives you enough gas to power a light bulb?  Do you suffer from frequent heartburn, yet still continue to eat foods you know you will trigger it? You’re not alone . . .

  • More than 50 million American adults experience frequent heartburn.
  • Over 3 million children have food allergies in the United States
  • IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which afflicts more than 25 million Americans is the most commonly diagnosed GI disorder with half of all patients dissatisfied with conventional treatment. The most common cause of abdominal pain in children (especially recurrent) is IBS.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec OTC and Nexium are the third best selling class of medication in the United States.

*From the book Integrative Gastroenterology by Gerard E. Mullin

The problem with taking Proton Pump Inhibitors for indigestion, or any other medication that acts by “inhibiting” or “blocking” a natural function, is that they substitute a pill for a function that your body performs naturally. By doing this, you override your innate, natural intelligence that knows perfectly and exactly how to heal itself. If you suffer from “acid indigestion” it is because you don’t have enough digestive juice to neutralize the processed chemical artificial “food” and drinks you are taking in.

Natural foods that are not cooked to death, come with their own digestive enzymes. If you eat them slowly, in a state of gratitude, you will not get acid indigestion. The body is always seeking balance. The opposite of the sympathetic nervous system, which governs the “fight or flight” response to stress—is the parasympathetic nervous system which operates independently to “rest and digest.” Stress shuts down digestion—rest enables it. The best way to digest stress hormones is to sleep.  By miraculous design, your digestive system winds and curves to allow you to slowly absorb and metabolize the nutrients you choose to put on the end of your fork, and to get rid of wastes within 18-24 hours. In contrast, true carnivores skip the gratitude and go right for the meat—because they have to eat quickly before their meal runs away or a bunch of buzzards show up with forks. The digestive system of a wildcat for example, is one straight tube–four times shorter than a human one, and his saliva is almost pure acid—the better to digest you with, my deer.

Early man ate naturally and seasonally. For the most part, humans lived peacefully in communities, shared meals together, and grew their own food in dirt that was rich in minerals and nutrients. Gardens and eventually farm crops were varied and rotated, so as not to strip the soil of vital nutrients. Food was shared. Animals grazed peacefully on real grass, and provided raw milk and antibiotic, steroid free meat.

Babies were breast-fed and held close by their mother—fed when hungry—not at predetermined times or by convenience from a bottle. The human body needs the minerals and nutrients absorbed by plants, energized by the sun, and stored as chlorophyll and all the colors of the rainbow–to make red blood cells and build strong bone marrow. Breast fed children receive those minerals and nutrients from their mother. In the first few days outside the womb, it is also crucial for a baby to acquire healthy balanced gut flora from breast milk in order to develop a healthy immune system. If a child does not acquire this gut flora, then he/she will not be able to digest and absorb foods properly. Without healthy gut flora, the human body is forever immune system compromised.

Life and death to a large degree are dependent upon the establishment of healthy balanced gut flora in the first few days of life outside the prenatal gate. This is the true definition of natural immunity.  Natural immunity is passed down from mother to child and as the child matures, so does the immune system; as well as the genetic predisposition to resist infection.

Fast forward. Modern man/woman has the same biological body, but the environment, culture, food supply, and lifestyle have changed dramatically.

Modern man eats quickly, stressed out, and rushing through meals. He buys food with a shelf life, totally devoid of live enzymes—man-made with artificial, chemical, toxic ingredients that totally destroy good gut flora. Our soils have been stripped of minerals and contaminated with pesticides. Modern man takes multiple medications that destroy gut flora. Young women take contraceptives for years before becoming pregnant and they too destroy gut flora.  Bottle fed babies, who bottle feed their babies, did not get normal healthy gut flora from the start, and in the first few years of life, damage their already damaged gut flora with numerous vaccinations that forcefully inject toxins directly in to their bloodstreams before their compromised immune systems could even mount a proper defense—that is, if they had healthy gut flora. Without healthy gut flora—there is little or no possible defense. A child with a compromised immune system built from baby formula, that doesn’t deliver the same healthy gut flora as breast milk–reacts to vaccinations in unpredictable ways. The research is overwhelming—in many cases, vaccines further damage the immune system, causing chronic bacterial and viral infections, and requiring multiple doses of antibiotics for ear and sinus infections, and treatments for asthma, allergies, and eczema.

Western medicine likes to compartmentalize disease. If you have asthma, they give you steroids and an inhaler to treat the lungs. If you have ear infections, they give you antibiotics and eventually recommend tubes be put in your ears. If you have arthritis, they inject your joints with steroids and eventually replace them. What if all those body parts could be healed simply and inexpensively by healing your gut?  Wouldn’t it be worth a try?

Perhaps one of the reasons Western medicine has been slow to understand the miraculous loop of tubing we call the small intestine, is because they couldn’t easily get inside it to visualize it. You can’t get to it by lighted scope from the mouth or the colon. Anatomically it lies behind and between other vital organs, so exploratory surgery was risky. Unexplained bleeding was always “assumed” to come from the small intestine, after all other parts of the digestive system were viewed and thus able to be ruled out. With the development of the “Pill Camera”, from a company in India called Given Imaging,  doctors were finally able to see inside the entire digestive system. This brought about new research and new understanding.

Years before however, researchers proved that the gut operated independently of the brain and spinal cord. In the book, The Second Brain, author Michael D. Gershon, M.D. talks about how the study of Neurogastroenterology started with two investigators in 19th century England named Bayliss and Starling. Bayliss and Starling isolated a loop of intestine and found that the peristaltic reflexes that move food in one direction to the colon, worked perfectly even without the brain or spinal cord. Dr. Gershon explains:

For the reflex to take place in a system that contains no other organ but the intestine, all of the necessary elements have to be intrinsic components of the wall of the gut. This does not exist in any other organ. Cut the connections between the bladder, the heart, or the skeletal muscles and the central nervous system, and all reflex activity ceases.”

This means that your gut operates separately from the rest of your body and must have everything it needs to do its’ job contained within itself. But what could you possibly need, that you can only access from a small section of your approximately 30 feet of intestines?

Healthy Gut Flora.  Happy Microbes.

Natural Immunity—it does a body good.

The key to eliminating many issues— autism, allergies, arthritis, chronic migraines, acne, depression, ADD, ADHD, PTSD, violent behavior, autoimmune diseases, obesity, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome—lies in the early acquisition of good gut flora—aka–good microbes in the miraculous self contained world of your “second brain.” There are more microbes in your gut than there are cells in your entire body. The gut is a highly organized microsphere, where good flora must out number and control the approximately 500 species of pathogenic, low frequency, opportunistic bad bacteria.

Dr. N. Campbell-McBride wrote a book, “Gut and Psychology Syndrome;” which is a term she created in 2004 after working with hundreds of children and adults, which clearly proves a direct connection between the gut and the brain. Dr. Campbell-McBride found in her many years of research, that almost all children with psychiatric problems and learning disabilities also have severe digestive issues. The book is an excellent resource—particularly for parents of children with behavior or learning disorders.

The various functions healthy microbes perform are critical to vital energy and holistic healing. It goes without saying that the first function is digestion and absorption of nutrients from food. The best food, the strongest pill, the latest diet or fat burning craze, will not work if it sits in your intestine and ferments. If you can’t absorb and metabolize the things you choose to put on the end of your fork or drinking straw you end up with multiple nutritional deficiencies and you don’t feel energized and alive. These are just a few of the deficiencies that are critical to vibrant health:

  • Minerals like magnesium, zinc, selenium, iron (if you look pale and pasty–anemic), potassium, etc.
  • Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B6, B12;  A, C, D3,
  • Folic Acid
  • Omega-3, 6, 9
  • Glutathione

How many of these vital nutrients have you heard of or seen in a health food store? Any or all of these nutritional deficiencies are critical for the normal, healthy development of the immune system, brain and body.

Healthy gut flora also act as housekeepers for the entire digestive system. When they colonize, they protect the entire surface of the gut from toxins and invaders. They provide a natural barrier by producing antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal substances that nourish and strengthen the lining of the gut—preventing leaky gut. Remember—with bacteria, it is always a matter of numbers. If you have little or no good gut flora, then opportunistic pathogens have the opportunity to grow and colonize. If, for example, you have an iron loving strain of bad bacteria growing in your digestive tract, it will consume whatever iron you ingest from your diet, leaving you iron deficient, and eventually, anemic. Taking an iron supplement will only feed the bacteria, because without healthy gut flora, you can’t absorb the iron, thus allowing the bad bacteria to grow stronger and increase their numbers. Make sense?

The research linking gut health to almost every chronic issue, neurological, psychiatric, autoimmune, and inflammatory issue is undeniable. The fact is, most of your immune system, and 95% of the feel good hormone serotonin depend upon the healthy functioning of your gut. Taking anti-depressants that adversely affect your brain, will not release serotonin in your gut. Treating autistic children, or those with ADD, ADHD, or violent behavior problems with drugs that further damage their system is not the answer. It has been proven, that the bacterial profile of autistic children is dramatically different from healthy children. Pain medications like Ibuprofen and Advil taken for long periods of time, can eventually burn holes in the gut. Teenagers who take antibiotics for acne, can eventually alter or destroy enough good bacteria that they develop inflammatory bowel problems and colitis.

For several years, I discounted all the mounting research about the benefits of fermented foods and drinks. Part of my hesitation, is that the nurse in me was a germ freak. I never believed in such a thing as “good bacteria.”  I don’t like milk or yogurt.  But one taste of Kombucha changed everything.  Then I tried fermented vegetables; specifically sauerkraut and beet kvass. I honestly felt so amazing, that I include these foods and Kombucha every day.  I feel rested and I don’t crave carbohydrates. And they make me feel good, and happy.  I recently found this awesome book by Donna Schwenk, Cultured Food For Life. I highly recommend it as well as her website and free videos to help you make your own fermented foods and drinks. Donna is so passionate about fermented foods and drinks, and so willing to freely share her story and years of experience, that you will be excited to try a recipe or two. Most people have no idea how absolutely amazing they can feel when they help build good gut flora. Kombucha is loaded with B Vitamins and is a powerful detoxifier that flushes heavy metals. Donna was able to reverse both high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes herself, and has heard from thousands of people over the years about the personal health challenges they have healed. These foods have been around for thousands of years—but now they are becoming popular once again, because even medical research supports the results.

Donna recommends starting slowly with just one half cup of Kefir; or four ounces of Kombucha; or a tablespoon or two of fermented vegetables with a meal. Kombucha is becoming a popular replacement for soda and is great for kids too.  Always remember to start slowly, with grace, and allow your body to experience vibrant health, abundant energy, and a feeling of peace and happiness.

That’s my wish for you.


Integrative Gastroenterology by Gerard E. Mullin M.D.

The Second Brain by Michael Gershon M.D.

Gut and Psychology Syndrome by Dr. N. Campbell-McBride

Cultured Foods For Life by Donna Schwenk

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Thomasina Copenhaver
Thomasina Copenhaver is a naturopathic doctor and registered nurse with over 30 years experience in the healthcare profession. Her passion is writing, researching, and empowering all humans with knowledge of healing at the cellular level; to enable them to make educated and informed choices regarding their health. For more information visit her website: or to buy her book, "Notes from a Naturopath" visit Amazon or Barnes and Noble.