The Good Guys

by Steven Home

Most of us think of bacteria as "the bad guys". After all, aren't they the microscopic little creatures that make us sick? Well it's true that some bacteria cause disease but it isn't true that all bacteria are bad. Some in fact are very beneficial. and we'd like to introduce you to these "good guys".

These good guys are often referred to as the friendly flora. They are the Lacto­bacteria which thrive in every healthy, human digestive system. particularly in the colon. These bacteria get their name from "lacto" meaning milk because they were first discovered in unpasteurized milk. These good guys perform a number of beneficial tasks in the colon. First, they produce digestive enzymes and assist in the final process of digestion. These bacteria are able to break down some of the substances our body is not otherwise capable of digesting, thus releasing small amounts of additional nutrients for the body. Secondly, they produce important vitamins for utilization by the body including vitamin K and the B vitamins thiamine and riboflavin. It has also been claimed that they manufacture small quantities of vitamin B. Thirdly, the presence of large quantities of friendly flora have been reported to help keep stools lighter and more bulky. Lastly, the lactobacillus are said to have an inhibiting action on the growth of harmful bacteria including the coliform bacteria (the unfriendly! flora or "bad" guys) which produce flatulence and putrefaction in the colon.

Under normal conditions the body's digestive juices and enzymes and the secretions of the friendly flora serve to regulate the growth of the putrefactive bacteria. When excessive quantities of these putrefactive bacteria are present they feed on undigested matter in the colon and give off large quantities of gas as a by product. If peristalsis of the colon is strong, much of this gas will be expelled resulting in flatulence. If peristalsis is not strong the gas will be absorbed into the bloodstream and may cause ill feelings.

Bernard Jensen and Robert Gray are two nutritionists who feel that in many North Americans the balance of friendly flora and unfriendly flora is incorrect. Both feel that ideally 80 to 85% of the bacteria in the colon should be friendly flora. But due to poor dietary habits, many people probably have only 15 to 20% of the friendly type of bacteria in their colon. The other 80 to 85% are the "unfriendly" putrefactive type.

The importance of these friendly bacteria to good health was first investigated in the 19th century by Ilya Metchikoff, a professor, at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. Dr. Metchikoff was interested in longevity and discovered that animals whose intestines did not harbor putrefaction lived longer than man, relatively speaking. He decided that putrefaction in the intestine was responsible for many of man's health problems and recommended that people learn to eat foods which encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestines and discourage the growth of unfriendly bacteria.

Although all of Dr. Metchikoffs conclusions on longevity are not sound in light of modern nutritional research, many modern nutritionists do concur that putrefaction in the intestines is not conducive to good health. Intestinal putrefaction may result in large quantities of poisonous substances being absorbed into the bloodstream which must then be dealt with by other organs of elimination. So, it would appear that there was some sound basis for Dr. Metchikoffs recommendation of a diet high in friendly bacteria. In fact, a number of health writers have noted that the Russian centurians, known for their longevity, consume great quantities of yogurt and other cultured and soured products which contain large quantities of friendly flora.

Although commercially prepared yogurt and other cultured dairy products are sources for the lactobacteria, they are not necessarily the best sources. In many commercial yogurts, the bacteria are killed during processing. Even those cultured dairy products containing live lactobacteria can deteriorate with age. As the bacteria grow and feed they produce lactic acid as a waste product. This lactic acid waste first slows bacterial growth and can finally kill off the friendly flora. Hence unless yogurt is made and used fresh it will contain more lactic acid than lactobacteria. Since lactic acid is a waste product of the body some people feel it unwise to consume foods containing high amounts of it.

Another reason why yogurt may not be the best sources of lactobacteria is that it does not contain acidophilus (unless it was added after culturing). It is felt that acidophilus may be more beneficial than other species of friendly flora because the acidophilus bacteria seem to have better staying power. They seem to be able to affix themselves better to the intestinal walls and thus exert their influence for longer periods of time.

An alternative way to add lactobacillus to the diet is to take capsules containing the live bacteria. Tablets are not recommended because too many bacteria are killed in the tableting process. Good quality capsules of lactobacillus should provide billions of live bacteria.

If kept frozen, the bacterial life is maintained for about 12 months. Lactobacillus capsules can also be stored in the refrigerator for about 6 months. At room temperature the bacteria will only survive for 2 weeks. This doesn't mean they spoil, it just means the bacteria We and the product loses its effectiveness.

For vegetarians and those who cannot tolerate dairy products lactobacteria can now be produced from non-dairy sources. For those who can tolerate diary products, a tasty treat can be made by preparing fresh acidophilus/bifidus milk, also known as kefir (see recipe).

In brief, all bacteria aren't bad. Even among bacteria there are "good guys". Two of the most important kinds of good guys are lactobacillus ac idophilus, noted for its "'staying power and lactobacillus bifidus which is of particular benefit to young children and the elderly.

And remember that those good guys aren't indestructible. They can suffer viral and antibiotic attack or even old age. Antibiotics will kill the good guys as well as the bad, and prolonged cleansing, diarrhea, colonics or enemas may also reduce the population of friendly flora So, don't forget to supply reinforcements.


Ariola, Paavo. Are You Confused? Phoenix, Arizona: Health Plus Publishers, 1971

Gray, Robert. The Colon Health Handbook, Oakland, California: Rockridge Publishing Company, 1981

Heinerman, John. The Science of Herbal Medicine, Orem, Utah:Bi-World Publishers, 1979

Hirsch, Roseann C. "Acidophilus: What is it?" Handout

Jensen, Bernard. Nature Has A Remedy, U.S.A.: by the Author, 1978

Information also obtained from consultation with NSP's Research and Development and Quality Control Staff.

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