Thursday, May 17, 2012

Body Bugs - Dust Mites, Eyelash Worms and Gut Flora

Continuing Bug Week, this article will address some of the creepy-crawlies that help us out every day. These quiet heroes clean us up and, in some cases, are responsible for keeping us alive. All they ask in return is a little real estate. So, once again, if you’re squeamish, please wait until next week before reading my blog.

As kids, we’re all told to beware of bed bugs biting us in our sleep. Now, bed bugs are pests that feed on our blood. If you’ve been following the news, recently their numbers have skyrocketed and the United States is on the verge of a bed bug epidemic. But there’s another bug in your sheets that’s much nicer than the bed bug – the dust mite.

Look at this little guy. Isn’t he cute?

This adorable little bug eats your skin. No, not in the same way that the scabies bug eats your skin. The dust mite is kind enough to wait patiently for your dead skin to fall off before he chows down. So he sleeps in bed with you at night, with thousands and thousands of his friends, acting as a loofah to clean you off.

How thoughtful!

Dust mites don’t carry disease, nor do they injure their hosts (us). The only downside to living with dust mites is if you’re allergic to them. If you are, then you’ll need to take special precautions to avoid a lot of itching and sneezing.

Next, the eyelash worm.

Although his proper name is demodex folliculorum, “eyelash worm” is much easier to pronounce (and type.) This little fella lives on your face, especially if you wear a lot of make-up or have oily skin. He, and up to two of his buddies, burrow into your hair follicles and eat your excretions. In other words, they live off of the stuff that would otherwise make your face dirtier, including old make-up. What’s really neat about these charming little worms is that after they eat your skin waste, they keep it inside them. Eyelash worms produce no waste, carry no illnesses, and cause no harm to us. They used to get a bad rap for causing blackheads, but that medical myth has been debunked.

Still, if you’re paranoid about these tykes munching on your Maybelline, just scrub your face with soap and water – the less they have to eat, the fewer will come to hang out.

And now we talk about some of the most important bugs in your body – gut flora.

 Okay, I’ll admit, this ISN’T cute. But it is important for your survival.

Gut flora aren’t technically insects. They’re bacteria that live in the walls of your gastro-intestinal (GI) tract. In fact, there are ten times as many bacteria in your intestines than there are cells in your whole body!

These “bugs” help you digest your food. High concentrations of two particular gut flora, Bifidobacter and Acidophilus (both present in yogurt,) can help you digest fiber, produce B vitamins and vitamin K, and help you break down drugs. In biology, we call this a symbiotic relationship – we give gut flora a place to live and provide them with food, and they in turn provide us with vital nutrients.

But gut flora are delicate and an improper diet can cause them great harm. Excess alcohol, antibiotics, or even processed food can cause Bifidobacter and Acidophilus to die out. With them gone, new neighbors take refuge in your intestines. And these new neighbors aren’t the nice kind who salt your sidewalk or invite you over for barbeques. These are the bad neighbors that party into the wee hours of the morning, let their dogs loose in your yard, and cause diarrhea and malnutrition. In fact, new studies have shown that poor concentrations of these probiotics (pro = for, biotic = life) can lead to diabetes and obesity.

So, see? Not all bugs are bad. Some have only your best interests at heart!

Except mosquitoes. Those things suck.

Aside from an awesome haircut and accent, this pharmacist has some great information about intestinal health that you might find interesting.

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