Sunday, January 22, 2012

Mosaic of life... bacteria 'R' us

Watching waves in the quiet of the morning hours, I find my peace.  The waves were clear and crisp; an icy blue-green.  Perfect surfing waves. Surfing a wave is learning to live with the world around you.  You are the ocean and yet you are not the ocean.  You are the ocean for one brief moment in time, all wet and salty.  Your senses take in the warmth of the sea, the taste of salt and seaweed.  You share your wave with a host of sea animals.  In the distance there may be dolphins playing in the waves, too.  Sometimes, you get a close encounter with a black-tipped shark plying the waters for food.  Hopefully, you are out of bite-range.  You may step on a little crab or step on the mighty manta ray.  Overhead the pelican soars and splashes hard, right near where you want to be to catch some waves.  The laughing gulls are making a mighty racket today.  I think they are laughing at me, the old woman thinking she can play at their beach.  You play in the ocean and you begin to respect the lives around you.  Live and let live, let's all enjoy our moments on this planet called earth.

Watching the ocean is never as good as being in it.  Although who hasn't been mesmerized by the sea.  Enchantment.  That enchantment never ends and is replayed and replayed on the faces of our children.  Watch a child play by the sea.  They bury themselves in the sand, and some even eat the sand. Then they run to the ocean to wash it off.  But the ocean does not so easily wash off.  It enters your pores and creates a memory that never dies.  You walk to the beach as an adult and that memory comes back to sooth your soul.

We are the ocean, we are the earth.  We are the bacteria of our environment.  We cannot escape our environment.  Life is out there but life is within us.  Scary but not so scary.  Our bodies know what to do, if our immune system is in working order.  We live in balance with the pathogens in our environment.  The problem is when our bodies cannot maintain that balance.  When our immune system is no longer able to cope with the pathogens in our environment.  

With the human infant the balance is preserved by breastfeeding.  Breastfeeding, is a river of life.  This river of life protects the infant from being overwhelmed by the pathogens in the environment.  Humanity cannot live in sterile settings, not possible.  We can try.  We can sterilize everything and anything but that does not protect us from the world.  We live with microbes, the good and the bad ones.  We can sterilize our foods, we can sterilize our environments, but that doesn't protect us from disease.  In fact it may make us more vulnerable to disease.  We now know that we need good bacteria in our bodies, that good bacteria works in our digestive tracts.  Sterilizing everything makes us more vulnerable, when the next pathogen emerges. 

Infant formula usage is predicated on the ability to sterilize the water, sterilize the equipment, and sterilize the food.  And for good reason.  A human infant that is not breastfeed is in a state of immune compromise.  They are not getting a substance that is alive with antibodies and protective factors against bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites.  Instead the formula-fed infant is being served a dead substance.  A substance that, if it has anything alive in it, is pathogenic to that infant.  If there is a bacteria in that food, the formula-fed infant may not be able to muster an adequate defense.  And the more vulnerable the infant (born by C-section, premature, hospitalized, medical issues), the more likely that infant may succumb or become damaged by a pathogen.  Infant formula has to be sterile but there is a recognition by industry that formula-fed infants need bacteria, the good bacteria, that breastfed infants acquire and keeps them healthy.  The question is how do you put a live substance in a food that needs to be sterile (devoid of life)?  I don't think it can be done.  Maybe its time to admit, that breastfeeding in this day and age (with antibiotic resistance and new virulent pathogens) is a matter of public safety.  

How should a nation spend its public resources?  We, humans, think we can circumvent nature, that liberation is about choice in infant feeding.  Yet this choice seems foolhardy.  Society will spend a fortune in trying to keep infant formula a safe product.  But if the premise of choice is based on an illusion of safety, then we will continue to invest in a product that cannot build a fully functioning immune system.  We risk the health of our children, our future.  We are our environment.  Our bodies are a mosaic of all the things we encounter while we go about our daily lives.  Babies who are breastfed have a live substance, that works to protect them on a daily basis.
 Copyright 2012 Valerie W. McClain

PS:  Cronobacter is a gram negative bacteria that seems prevalent in our environment.  They have cultured it in hospitals, powdered infant formula, feeding equipment, a wide variety of foods.  Enterobacter sakazakii (Cronobacter) has been found on air filters in a manufacturing plant for powdered milk protein.  This study makes for interesting reading for those who are interested in the problems of PIF (Powdered Infant Formula).

This article is entitled, "Dissemination of Cronobacter spp.(Enterbacter sakazakii) in a Powdered Milk Protein Manufacturing Facility," by N. Mullane et al (Appl Environ Microbiol. 2008 October; 74(19): 5913-5917.
"Air is a potential source of hazardous microoorganismsand one conclusion they draw, "Appropriate air filter maintenance along with surveillance for Cronobacter spp. would contribute to reducing the dissemination of these pathogens in the food chain."

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