Health Care Lifestyle

It’s All About Balance: Not All Bacteria Are Bad

Woman taking a probiotic with a glass of water.

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When you hear the word “bacteria,” you might imagine harmful organisms that can wreak havoc on your health and make you very sick. But not all bacteria are bad. In fact, there are an estimated 100 trillion “good” bacteria in your body, many of which are an important part of keeping you healthy.

What are Bacteria?

Bacteria are one-celled organisms that are so tiny, you can only see them with a microscope. You can find bacteria almost anywhere on earth — they can live and thrive under extreme conditions of temperature and pressure. Researchers have estimated that the human body contains more bacterial cells than human cells, but most of them are harmless.

Most of the good bacteria in your body are used in your digestive system, but your immune system also uses bacteria to stay in balance, ensuring it’s protecting your body in the right ways. Specifically, bacteria keep white blood cells (which are essentially your body’s bodyguards) from using too much force and attacking cells that they shouldn’t.

How Probiotics Can Help

In recent years, some pharmaceutical companies have begun marketing products called probiotics, which are ways to give your body additional good bacteria. These products come in many forms, including pills, creams and suppositories.

Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular probiotics, and what they do for your body:

Lactobacillus

You normally have Lactobacillus bacteria in your digestive, urinary and genital systems, but people can consume some of the more than 50 different species of lactobacillus — through eating yogurt, drinking kefir or taking dietary supplements — to prevent:

  • Colic in babies
  • Diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile bacteria, antibiotics or infection
  • Diarrhea in adults who are in the hospital or are undergoing chemotherapy treatment
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and ulcerative colitis
  • Lung infections in young children

Bifidobacteria

This type of bacteria begins growing in your digestive system right after you’re born. There are about 30 different strains of Bifidobacterial, which can help:

  • Improve cholesterol levels in women and people with Type 2 diabetes
  • Protect against unhealthy bacteria
  • Relieve symptoms of IBS

Saccharomyces Boulardii

This is a type of yeast that acts as a probiotic. It’s most helpful for treating some types of diarrhea and acne.

Streptococcus Thermophilus

Some studies show that this type of bacteria can help prevent lactose intolerance. That’s because it produces the enzyme lactase, which your body needs to digest the sugar in dairy products.

Proceed With Caution

It’s important to note that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any probiotics. Some people have developed bacteria or fungi in the blood after taking probiotics, and so the FDA is still conducting research to determine whether they are safe and effective.

If you want to take a probiotic supplement, talk with your doctor first. Find out whether probiotics are safe for you considering your health history, and if they would interact with any medications you’re already taking.

To learn more about both good and bad bacteria, or to find a primary care provider, visit us online.

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