Your Body Is Teeming with Bacteria. Here’s Why Science Says That’s Not a Bad Thing

For many of us who were raised in western cultures, we grew up in a germ-phobic society that was obsessed with cleanliness to the point of sterilization. Take a stroll down any grocery store’s cleaning aisle, and you’ll see a wealth of products proclaiming their abilities to rid unwanted microbes from your home, for example.

Bacteria is the enemy, right?

That’s not entirely true, though!

For most of human history, our bodies have been a habitat teeming with bacteria. Don’t panic, though. Much of the bacteria that cohabitate with us are actually doing us a lot of good. It’s only recently with the introduction of antibiotics and the mass production of “dead” food, that people have had problems cultivating an especially beneficial form of bacteria flora found in the gut.

Human intestine with intestinal bacteria, 3D illustration

What is Gut Bacteria?

Gut bacteria (or microbiota) is an umbrella term for a wide range of microorganisms that reside in our gut. According to Gut Microbiota Worldwatch, there are “at least 1000 different species of known bacteria with more than 3 million genes (150 times more than human genes).” Gut bacteria lives in the intestines.

What Does Gut Bacteria Do?

There’s lots of research going on right now regarding gut bacteria and how it influences our health. The benefits are diverse and far reaching, but the jury is still out on if all these benefits can be consistently proven:

  • The US National Institute of Mental Health found a link between a healthy gut and a healthy brain. This November, they presented compelling new evidence that suggests a link between the composition of the gut microbiome and behavioral conditions, especially autism. Research from neurobiologists at Oxford University also indicates there’s a connection between gut bacteria and mental health.
  • According to the American Gastroenterological Association, probiotics are “most often used to promote digestive health.” Their site lists a number of conditions that may be eased or treated through the use of probiotics, including Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Infectious Diarrhea, Antibiotic-Related Diarrhea, and Traveler’s Diarrhea.
  • The National Institutes of Health found that a healthy gut flora might be able to counter obesity and diabetes, and published their findings in The Journal of Biological Chemistry. Daily consumption of a probiotic stimulated an appetite suppressing hormone which in turn reduced food intake and improve glucose tolerance in lab mice.
  • Harvard Health Publications, a journal by the Harvard Medical School, mentions probiotics as a great way to give your immune system a boost. “Now researchers, including some at Harvard Medical School, are finding evidence of a relationship between such “good” bacteria and the immune system. For instance, it is now known that certain bacteria in the gut influence the development of aspects of the immune system, such as correcting deficiencies and increasing the numbers of certain T cells.” The article also warns, however, that “precisely how the bacteria interact with the immune system components isn’t known.”

How Can You Restore Gut Bacteria?

Fortunately, if you’re lacking vital bacteria, there are things you can do to promote healthy intestinal flora. The easiest way to do this is by changing what you eat.

The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine says, “Bacteria that live in our intestinal tract, also known as gut bugs, flourish off of colorful, plant-based foods.” They created the following helpful infographic to help you find foods that can improve your bacteria:

The Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine / via
The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine / via

Another way to restore gut bacteria is to take a probiotic. Check out WebMD’s article The Best Ways to Use Probiotics to learn more about how to choose a probiotic that’s right for you. Make sure to consult your doctor before changing your medical regimen, however!

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