In addition to making their homes in the soil and oceans, both helpful and harmful bacteria also live in the human gut. Studies have found that a healthy gut microbiome reduces obesity, prevents type 2 diabetes and boosts immunity. Research has also confirmed that there is a close link between gut health and mental health, with many anxiety and depression sufferers reporting improvements in their symptoms after taking probiotic supplements.
So, which bacteria are good, and which are harmful? And how can we maintain the right balance between the two?
Medical News Today explains exactly what bacteria are and what their function is in the body:
Bacteria are single-cell organisms that are neither plants nor animals.
They usually measure a few micrometers in length and exist together in communities of millions. …
There are many different types of bacteria. One way of classifying them is by shape. There are three basic shapes. …
Bacteria are often thought of as bad, but many are helpful. We would not exist without them. The oxygen we breathe was probably created by the activity of bacteria.
The good bacteria in the gut are essential to human survival because they break down nutrients like complex sugars in such a way that they can be used by the body.
These beneficial bacteria also help to prevent disease by occupying spaces that bad, pathogenic bacteria would like to occupy, and in some cases by directly attacking these pathogens.
Bacteria are essential to the survival of plant life because they release nitrogen when they die, and plants need that nitrogen to survive. Many plants contain small amounts of bacteria which are utilized when the plant sprouts.
Bacteria are also commonly used in conjunction with yeast and molds in the production of foods like soy sauce, cheese, yogurt, pickles and vinegar. Fermented foods not only last longer but also have anti-inflammatory and other health benefits.
The abilities of bacteria to break down organic compounds have also been harnessed by companies that process waste and clean up toxic spills. They are also commonly used by pharmaceutical companies in the manufacture of drugs, including antibiotics. They are also used for biological, genetic and other types of research.
Of course, not all bacteria are good. In fact, some can be deadly.
When the immune system is exposed to bacteria that it does not recognize it will attack them, which can result in infection, swelling, and inflammation.
In addition, strains of bacteria like A Streptococcus, Clostridium perfringens (C. perfringens), E. coli and S. aureus can cause serious illnesses, including cholera, dysentery and flesh-eating bacteria (necrotizing fasciitis).
Good hygiene practices like regular hand washing and ensuring that food, especially meat, is cooked correctly can prevent many bacterial infections, and antibiotics can be used in the treatment of certain illnesses caused by bacteria. Unfortunately, antibiotics also kill good bacteria in the gut, disrupting the natural balance of the gut microbiome.
In addition to preventing infection from harmful bacteria, it is equally important to ensure that the body receives enough beneficial bacteria to maintain a healthy gut microbiome.
Live Science explains:
In a 2014 review article published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, the authors mention that gut bacteria and other microorganisms, such as helpful strains of E.coli and Streptococcus, aid in digestion, stave off colonization by harmful pathogens, and help to develop the immune system. Moreover, the disruption of gut bacteria has been linked to certain disease conditions. For instance, patients with Crohn's disease have an increased immune response against gut bacteria, according to a 2003 review published in the journal The Lancet.
A diet rich in plain yogurt and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and fermented soy are excellent ways to promote gut health and provide an environment in which good bacteria can thrive, improving our health and well-being.
Learn more about the benefits of probiotic foods at Yogurt.news.