You've heard the rumblings about bacteria. Once seen as just dirty germs, these microbes are now more accurately divided into two categories: disease-causing agents, or "bad" bacteria, and health-promoting "good" bacteria.|
Research is showing that digestive tract bacteria, in particular, play a role in both digestive wellness and overall health. In other words, the same tiny microbes that help ward off food poisoning, get your system back on track after a bout with the stomach flu and help digest food may also contribute to a stronger immune system, weight management and even mental resilience. Below are just some of the ways these "good" gut bacteria affect us in positive ways--even beyond digestive health.
Bolstering Immune System Function
According to a study on mice from the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine, helpful gut bacteria can help prime the immune system, allowing it to respond effectively to harmful microbes it encounters. This might explain why secondary infections develop after the use of antibiotics, which kill off both good and bad bacteria.
How does this happen? Basically, white blood cells that recognize bacteria are primed or "warmed up" when in the presence of healthful bacteria, and can respond appropriately when harmful bacteria invade the body. Researchers hypothesize that broad-spectrum antibiotics, which kill of a range of bacteria rather than targeting a specific strain, detract from this priming by eliminating this baseline level of function.
Think of it as you would think about running: It's hard to go from standing to sprinting, but you might be able to switch into a sprint if you're already jogging. In this example, an antibiotic is an agent that keeps your body's white blood cells standing still, rather than jogging to warm up.
Staving Off Infection
Research evidence is mixed (it tends to vary by condition), but much investigation is being done to uncover how a healthy balance of gut bacteria might contribute to infection prevention. For example, some studies have shown that using probiotics to re-colonize the gut, especially after a course of antibiotics, can prevent diarrhea associated with antibiotic use.
In other infections caused or perpetuated by an imbalance of gut bacteria (such as yeast infections, urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis, a type of vaginal infection) probiotics are being tried as possible preventatives. This means that supplementing the body with the appropriate strain of "good" bacterial may help rebalance the body, thereby allowing it to fight off infection-causing agents on its own. In other words, a healthy gut really can boost your overall health.