I recall as a child enjoying a series of historical novels called, We Were There. Each book carried the reader to a particular event such as the Boston Tea Party or the Battle of Lexington and Concord, which strangely are the two I particularly remember, along with thirty-four other momentous happenings.
How long ago and far away I felt I was transported, to ‘be there’ in what we consider to be pivotal moments that changed the course of history, and in effect the course of our own lives. But, while that was imaginary, my own real-life experience has provided me reflection back to places in time that have impacted our current lives where actually ‘I was there’.
What has led me to think about this, is that I was recently asked to provide my readers with some information about probiotics. Bear with me as I make the connection.
Evidence of the benefits of probiotics for an expanding list of health conditions is increasingly presenting itself. In fact, these purported nice little bacteria are becoming as well discussed as amoxicillin–as in, “yes, Johnny is on another round of amoxicillin”–the commonly prescribed antibiotic that many have been raised on. Unfortunately, not quickly enough or significant enough to stave off antibiotic resistance— declared by the World Health Organization and national health organizations as one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development of our time. Wow.
Antibiotic resistance is due to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in both humans and animals–which has enabled the bacteria that cause infection to change themselves so that they are not killed off by the drugs targeted to obliterate them. This makes many types of infections harder, and in some cases impossible, to treat. While the impact of this may seem a bit difficult to fathom, according to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2013, over 2 million people in the US were infected by these resistant bacteria, resulting in at least 23,000 deaths.
Also, there are other consequences of antibiotic use related to its effect upon our internal gut environment and the vast community of microorganisms that dwell within. The mechanism of these effects is becoming increasingly understood as science explores the new and fragile frontier of this human microbiome; and studies how insults to this precise and balanced environment mediate many immunological, metabolic–as well as emotional/behavioral–changes.
Understanding the benefits of probiotics–favored in fermented foods– is not really that new. The Neolithic people of Central Asia apparently became hip to this around 6000 BC according to this little article on the history of yogurt. The Dannon Yogurt Company also seemed to be onto the power of probiotics, traveling from the motherland to set up shop in a small factory in the Bronx in the 1940s–just at the same time the use of antibiotics became widespread. This was only the beginning.
This timeline on the development of antibiotics, detailing when new types became available by prescription is worth a peek. Note the vast proliferation of these medications in the 1980s–because, you see, that is when ‘I was there’. Beginning in the late 1980s, working in clinical and community settings I began to notice women presenting with symptoms of candida overgrowth who had histories of significant antibiotic use; and I saw that babies and young children treated with repeated doses of antibiotics seemed the rule rather than the exception. Also, in 1993 I was quite aware when the FDA approved the use of genetically modified bovine growth hormone (rGBH) to increase milk production in cattle. This resulted in an increased incidence of mastitis and concomitant antibiotic use in herds–whose milk then entered our food supply.
During that window of time, I also was there sitting witness to an emergence of autism spectrum disorders and premature puberty, the explosion in rates of childhood obesity and the rapid climb in cesarean section deliveries. In WIC clinics I first saw young autistic children wearing protective helmets– and learned of Asperger’s Syndrome from a mother whose child had recently been diagnosed. There too, I watched the mandated vaccination requirements for children expand. In clinical settings, I encountered nine-year-old girls who had begun menstruating and young teens with Type 2 Diabetes.
The preservation and promotion of health and the practice of medicine have been around since the beginning of humankind. All exist in the context of place and time, and are dependent upon previous knowledge, expanding technologies, changing cultural, social and physical environments and the influence of economic forces. Extremes of conditions must present and mistakes uncovered before new solutions can be found. Newer approaches can lead to both life-sustaining miracles as well as compromising catastrophes. And, some ancient healing agents and practices are still profoundly relevant today.
Of course, antibiotics are a modern medical miracle, major agents in the mitigation of the morbidity and mortality associated with many illnesses that had previously ravaged large swaths of humanity. I am not suggesting that they are the only contributor to the many conditions that currently plague us. But, they serve as an example of how the inappropriate use of and reliance on drugs, coupled with a lack of a holistic view of the body and healing can result in questionable if not outright harmful outcomes.
I have ‘also been there’ for a number of other health-related setbacks and breakthroughs –some of whose impacts may have already sat before the jury while others still await the perspective of hindsight. However, in the now, the spotlight is shining on the importance of maintaining our gut health and providing our bodies with the very good bacteria probiotics can provide through the proper foods or supplements. They restore the balance sometimes disrupted by antibiotics–the balance that may be essential to both prevent and address a myriad of health conditions we are only beginning to imagine.
I recommend a read of this comprehensive and helpful primer on understanding and choosing the best probiotic supplements by the good folk at Reviews.com. They have sorted through a lot of information and reviewed many products–doing the work, so that you may be able to say, ‘I am here’ on a new pathway towards improved wellness.
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In health, Elyn
My Plate Haiku
Are we what we eat?
Or do we eat what we are?
Are they the same thing?