Bacterial Buddies: Are we afraid of the right things?

The power of the tiny little organisms that are inside and on you

By Jessica de Loma Olson

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]oncerned about that extra kilo that always haunts you, no matter how much you go to the gym? Now you can officially stop worrying. A person can have around 1 kilogram of microorganisms inside their bory. Eww, right? There is no reason to be concerned; or is there?

As years pass by, the importance of the concept of microbiota is exponentially growing. All those microorganisms that live inside us and on our body, sharing one same home, are known as microbiota. It includes bacteria, fungi, viruses and any microorganism possible. Even though hosting other creatures might sound awkward, it is usually totally fine. However, it is the equilibrium between all these that is important. For instance, it is known that alterations in the microbiota, especially the community in the colon, are linked to inflammatory processes, immune diseases, cancer and even depression and autism.

The perfect balance between all the microorganisms inside and on our bodies is fundamental to stay healthy. For example, good bacteria are the ones helping us out with digesting our food. The problem is that on a daily basis our body is constantly exposed to threats from the exterior. Just think about how dirty a toilet might be.

What not to do in a toilet

Consider all the effort you make when you are desperately trying to avoid touching the toilet seat. All those difficulties to just not sit on it. Forget about this; apparently this is not the worst thing you can do here. A study performed at the University of San Diego and led by S. Kelley showed that there are worse practices than that. For example, flushing the toilet with the cover up disperses bacteria as if it was an aerosol, or not washing your hands afterwards can be even more harmful by spreading fecal bacteria. So next time, remember soap might be your best ally when protecting yourself.

What not to touch in your house

To put it in numbers, Dr. Charles Gerba from the University of Arizona (also known as Dr. Germ) estimated that there are 50 fecal bacteria per square inch in a toilet seat. This might sound disgusting but you will reconsider where you eat and what you touch once you know other details. For example, mobile phones have 10 times more bacteria than toilets, and an office desk up to 400 times more! In addition, who has avoided kitchens in student dorms just because of the filthy kitchen towels and sponges? Be aware, these can have up to 20.000 times more bacteria than your toilet seat!

What (not) to eat

Infections by the bacterium Clostridium difficile are one of the main causes of diarrhea and colitis. More importantly, this type of infection is quite resistant to antibiotics and the current treatment is still tricky in some complicated cases. In light of this issue, scientists turned to the human gut microbiota to search for the answer. So why not just change this microbiota for a healthy one? Josbert Keller’s team tried it at the University of Amsterdam. The first fecal transplantation, given by an enema or through a nasogastric tube to the stomach, actually worked. Surprisingly, this exchange of the gut microbiota was two times more efficient than antibiotics.

However, it is easy to understand some of the disadvantages. The solution: poop capsules. The nonprofit stool bank OpenBiome screens fecal samples and produces poop pills. As weird as it may seem, so far this could be a feasible solution to reestablish the gut microbiota when altered.

Mobile phones have 10 times more bacteria than toilets

With all this said, you might have to reconsider what you fear and what you love. Understanding more about the 100 trillion buddies – yes that is – we have in and on our bodies and how they constantly interact with the environment might make the difference. Like in The Triangles’ song “Applejack”, remember sometimes the strongest and most wonderful things are those we cannot see.


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