At any given time, we have trillions of microbes living in our intestines. These are essential to our well-being and survival. Among many other purposes, everyone needs them for proper digestion, bowel function and immune health, and they are even more critical for individuals with conditions such as cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and spinal cord injuries, who are at high risk for compromised digestive and/or immune function. Dr. Nigel Plummer estimates that healthy bacteria, or probiotics, make up 50 percent of our fecal matter, produce 2-4 liters of gas per day and constitute 2-3 pounds of our total body weight. The more good bacteria we have in our guts, the better our physical and mental health. Without these healthy bacteria, we would become ill and, estimates say, die within five years of birth.
Initially we acquire probiotics from the birth canal and our mothers’ breast milk, then as we age, through the consumption of fermented foods. Before the invention of the ice box and refrigerator, fermentation was used for centuries by different cultures around the world to not only preserve food, but also support peoples’ health. Fermentation occurs when food is exposed to microbes that consume carbohydrates (sugar) as a fuel source and give off alcohol and acid as a byproduct. These byproducts create an uninhabitable environment for harmful bacteria, thus preventing food from rotting and ultimately extending its shelf-life.