by Ruth Ann Clayton, RD

In 1908 Russian Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff proposed that people consuming greater quantities of fermented foods were healthier and lived longer. From observations of Bulgarians drinking fermented milk he deduced that it was bacteria in the gut and in certain foods that were providing such health benefits and longevity. Louis Pasteur called fermented sauerkraut the most important vegetable dish. In fact the entire history of man records the consumption of bacteria-containing fermented staple foods and suggests they carry benefits. Modern science has confirmed the bacteria, good or bad, found in our body plays a substantial role in our heath.

We have complex bodies made up of millions of living bacteria and yeast, both good and bad. This body system is often referred to as the Gut Protection System or the internal GPS. Our internal GPS wages a daily battle in our bodies with good bacteria and bad bacteria each trying to prevail. The bacteria with the strongest and largest army will win. For our internal GPS to work we need a healthy bacterial balance.

Good bacteria are known as “probiotics” meaning “for life”. Probiotics have a detailed job description that doesn’t allow for vacation time. Their main task is to inhibit bad bacteria growth. But they also promote digestion, inhibit food born diseases, and produce vitamins B and K. In addition probiotics assist calcium absorption, boost the immune system, produce natural antibiotics, neutralize toxins and fight fungus and yeast.

We are born with an almost sterile gut. Around age two we typically have developed a colony of friendly bacteria similar to adults. If not disturbed these bacteria stay remarkably stable and unique throughout our life. That’s the key – if not disturbed. Our diets used to be more plentiful with bacteria from the soil through raw fruits and vegetables and the fermented staples mention above. Now our process of washing and peeling produce and our heavy usage of agricultural chemicals and disinfectants are destroying good bacteria.

It gets worse. This balance of healthy bacteria can also be upset by modern lifestyle and certain medicines. Prescription antibiotics and antibiotics found in animal feed and injections, steroids, antacids, radiation, chemotherapy, and birth control pills can all impact our delicate bacteria ratio. Other disruptive factors are: stress, fast-food diets, sugar, refined carbohydrates, smoking, alcohol, and of course aging.

An imbalance of good bacteria may include such symptoms as diarrhea, weakened immunity, allergies, candida overgrowth, gastrointestinal issues, bloating, gas, malabsorption of nutrients and poor digestion. Actually, there are so many symptoms of bacteria imbalance that it should be considered with most conditions.

Those of us in good health may wish to strengthen our internal GPS by including fermented foods such as live cultured yogurt, fermented sauerkraut or Kim chi (fermented cabbage), kefir, buttermilk, tempeh (fermented soy), and miso in our diets.

Supplemental probiotics can boost our internal GPS and may be used for maintenance or when experiencing a specific health issue particularly with the gut. Taking supplemental probiotics during and after antibiotics is advised and should be discussed with a healthcare practitioner. There is one caution; those with an autoimmune disease of any type should check with their physician prior to taking probiotics.

Ruth Ann Clayton is the Registered Dietitian at Nature’s Way. Reach her atnatureswaymh@gmail.com. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.


Ruth Ann Clayton, Registered Dietitian, is active in both the American Dietetics Association and Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine Dietetic Practice Group. Her nationally accredited Dietetic Internship and her years of experience in public health and hospital settings reflect her commitment to your health and well being.

As the co-owner of Nature’s Way, she uses her comprehensive background to research products, read labels, investigate manufacturers and provide information for her customers.