By Arnold Malone

Pioneer Columnist

For more than a century we thought that germs were bad. It is now ingrained in many of us that bacteria are enemies. Of the bacteria that exists in our bodies some are harmful, many are just thankful that we have provided a warm home, and a huge number are as vital as any organ.

Our street language makes it sound like we should rid ourselves of bacteria. If we did, we would be constipated, unable to process food and we would be dead by sunset. For a lifetime we have understood bacteria to be a bunch of renegade characters that invaded our body and made us ill. We thought it was our duty to kill them – what a mistake that would have been.

Most microbes are lifesavers that work around the clock to keep us healthy. Day after day they are the good guys. Our bodies are full of these tiny workers who make nearly every system in our body function. Dont try counting them one by one because there are four hundred trillion of them. Tucked into one place they would consume more space than your heart and weigh about four pounds. In fact, we have more microbes in our body than human cells (although human cells are larger).

We have all read that fiber is good for you. Fiber does not provide nutrition. It absorbs a lot of water and really helps expel solids. A definition of fiber is an in-take that cannot be digested. Colonies of bacteria that live on fiber however, do a world of good. Without fiber we would lose that benefit. It is those microbes that assist the gut in doing important daily functions.

Good microbes are a major force in controlling our bad ones. It has only been since 2007 that scientists have started mapping the geology of microbes in and on our body. There are different colonies on our forehead, under our arms, on our feet, in our nostrils, on our back and location-by-location on and within our bodies.

Our bodies are home for a superabundant number of microbes. Our gut, alone, is host to one hundred trillion microbes of which there are at least four hundred varieties. These bacteria play a major part in allowing us to digest food. They break down carbohydrates, extract amino acids from proteins, help resist disease, strengthen the immune system and improve brainpower. The microbes in our bodies enhance our capacity to expel waste, improve the functions of our organs, and change our moods.