It's that time of the year again for me; I'm another year older. In one sense, that is a welcomed event. I made it through another year. However, that's the good news. The bad news is the uncertainty of what may come my way in my fifty-eighth year-especially as it relates to health issues. There are things that I can do to lessen my risk factor. I can exercise everyday, not smoke, drink moderately, observe a proper diet, and take vitamins. I do all these precautionary things, but I am always vigilant for new things to insure my good health for years to come.

Since Thanksgiving, I've been supplementing this health-conscious regimen with acidophilus. While home for Thanksgiving, my son told me that he was reaping much benefit from taking it. His whole-hearted endorsement of acidophilus made it seem like a miracle drug. As the Thanksgiving turkey and apple dumplings commingled in my stomach, I rushed out to find a store that was still open that carried acidophilus. The only place that was open was one of those all night grocery stores. While driving back home, I excitedly read the directions and then popped two tablets into my mouth. The bottle told me that two was a recommended start-up dosage. In addition, I learned that those two tablets would provide me four billion active bacteria-plus or minus a few thousand here or there. Acidophilus isn't measured in milligrams but in billions of bacteria. Even now, that seems like a lot of bacteria.

As soon as I got home and while awaiting some cure from what, I don't know, I looked up acidophilus on the Internet. I soon discovered that Elie Metchnikoff, while working at Pasteur Institute (an institute started by the guy who heated milk to kill harmful bacteria) discovered that milk products had good bacteria. As I read on, I learned that there are four hundred different kinds of gastro-intestinal bacteria-some of which are good and others are bad. The good group contains acidophilus. These good bacteria are called probiotics.

As I poured over acidophilus web sites, I learned that there are numerous health benefits from these potent bacteria. It allegedly helps prevent colon cancer, insures good functioning of the digestive system, reduces cholesterol, and increases white blood cells. It also reduces yeast infections-which I don't normally get, but if I were to get them, I would want to be prepared. I went to bed happy and content that tomorrow all of my aches and pains would go away. Well, acidophilus wasn't a pain panacea. However, I still holdout hopes for massive prophylactic benefits from all the bacteria that I daily ingest. Having taken over a 120 billion bacteria since Thanksgiving, I would think that I would soon notice some empirical benefits-120 billion is a lot of bacteria. Isn't it?

While waiting for a discernable positive effect, it has given me time to think about all that live bacteria working their way through my system after that first day of elation. After a week of taking acidophilus, I did notice a change. One night, I just couldn't get to sleep. I lay there thinking-thinking about all those good bacteria. I wondered about the manner that I was ingesting the bacteria. What concerned me was how was it that bacteria could be packaged in a tablet that looked just like a common aspirin. For all I knew, I could be taking dead bacteria-they certainly weren't alive in tablet form. What made them come to life? While pondering this, I drifted back to my childhood and recalled the crystals that grew when placed in a Mason jar filled with water. You recall them; they looked like multi-colored stalagmites in miniature after a couple of weeks. To be honest, that image of two billion stalagmite-like bacteria growing in my intestines didn't cause me to fall fast asleep any too quickly.

As I tossed and turned thinking about the bacteria, it came to me that so much in my life was beyond my control or understanding. While it is imperative that I do all that I can to insure a happy and healthy life, I don't have ultimate control over life. However, I do have control over the way that I use the time that I have. I need to live life to the fullest and not merely devise ways to lengthen life. Perhaps, you and I need to spend some time working on enjoying the wondrous gift of life and not worry so much about things like bacteria.

This article appeared in the Dixon Telegraph on 1/16/01.