For most of us, the mention of bacteria is cringe worthy. We conjure up images of E. coli food poisoning, sore throats from Strep bacteria, and find ourselves in a society obsessed with anti-bacterial anything. Come to find out, however, that many bacteria are not all that bad.
In fact, bacteria are very necessary for our survival. Gut bacteria stimulate cell growth, defend against diseases, and keep many toxins from entering the bloodstream. So before you rule out bacteria as a sworn enemy, consider that some bacteria such as the types found within the digestive tract are much better off as your friend.
Bacteria in the Gut
Gut flora consists of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of humans and other animals. The human body, containing 10 trillion cells, carries 10 times as many microorganisms within the gut – making the intestines the largest reservoir of human flora. Some strains worth mentioning include the Lactobacillus genus and the Bifidobacterium genus. Both strains exert a range of beneficial health effects. For example:
Lactobacillus acidophilus ferments sugars into lactic acid. Regularly found in probiotic supplements and yogurt products, this bacterium has been shown to be resistant to bile, low pH, and digestive enzymes. As a “good germ,” it helps to maintain a healthy intestinal tract and aid in digestion.
Bifidobacterium longum is one of the most important inhabitants of the human body. Like acidophilus, Bifidobacterium longus ferments sugars into lactic acid, which lowers the pH in the intestines. As a probiotic, the bacterium maintains a normal digestive tract by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria and boosting the immune system.
The Case for Friendly Gut Bacteria
Should the bacteria within the gut become unbalanced, inflammation, infection, and disease within the intestines and elsewhere in the body can occur. Researchers from the University of Toronto and the University of Bern have now shown that diabetes is one of the diseases that can depend on intestinal bacteria. The right kinds of bacteria can produce hormones and biochemicals that prevent diabetes from forming. Is it a coincidence that diabetes rates have increased steadily over the past few decades as our homes and surrounding environments have become more and more clean?
How else do gut bacteria affect us? Even though you’d probably never think of it, gut flora can affect your thinking. In other words, microbes can manipulate your mind by influencing behavior and cognitive processes like memory. Exactly how gut bacteria influence gene expression and the state of the brain is not entirely clear, but the research results may help provide a new method to treating psychiatric symptoms as mental health issues continue to grow.
In addition to probiotic supplements, consumption of prebiotics, also known as functional foods, increase beneficial intestinal microflora. According to a Belgian study, functional foods are low-digestible carbohydrates that enhance immunity, facilitate mineral uptake, and counteract cancer, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Together, prebiotics and probiotics can help you achieve your healthiest gut yet!
Yours in Health,
Stella Metsovas B.S.