If you are one of those people with a tube of anti-bacterial hand gel clipped to your purse, or kept handy in the top drawer of your desk, then that title may have just grossed you out. Me, make friends with bacteria? Take a few deep breaths and relax: it’s okay, really. We weren’t talking about those bacteria that lurk on door handles and jump from hand to hand in a business handshake, ready to spread illness in their wake. In fact, we’re talking about “friendly” bacteria, the kind that helps you stay healthy.
Getting to Know the “Friendlies”
So, just what are these so-called “friendly” bacteria? Let’s start with a bit of science: under normal conditions, the human digestive system is populated with approximately 400 different types of probiotic bacteria. These bacteria help the body maintain healthy digestion and keep the population of “bad” bacteria (those that cause disease) under control. When the balance of intestinal flora is disturbed, the result can be a number of illnesses ranging from the common cold, flu, irritable bowel syndrome, and allergies, just to name a few.
The bad news is, these “friendly” bacteria or intestinal flora, are not invincible. Their numbers can be reduced. This, in turn, may have a significant impact on health. Factors which reduce the healthy flora in the gastrointestinal tract are infections, use of antibiotics, chemotherapy, and radiation. Stress is another reducing factor. This could be the reason why it is easy to get sick when you are under a lot of stress: it compromises your body’s intestinal flora, allowing the bad bacteria to get the best of you. So, although stress does not actually cause intestinal inflammation that is part of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it suppresses an important substance (inflammasome) responsible for regulating normal intestinal flora. Basically, if you have taken a round of antibiotics or been under a lot of stress, your body is more vulnerable to illness.
Bring on the Reinforcements
Now, for some good news. Research suggests that supplementing the body with oral doses of probiotics can help build up the good bacteria ratio in the gut. In fact, one study revealed that probiotic supplementation reversed the suppression of inflammasome caused by stress. Other studies revealed that probiotics (the “friendly” bacteria replacers) may:
- Reduce anxiety and depression disorders and lower the levels of corticosterone, a stress induced hormone
- Reduce allergic reactions
- Lower the chance of catching the common cold and reduce the duration and symptoms of it
- Help to avoid urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Boost overall health and immunity.
While probiotics have been shown to reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotics, they are also being studied for more serious conditions such as colon cancer, skin infections, and inflammatory bowel disease. Essentially, these “friendly” bacteria may defend the body from bacterial invasion from the inside, much like that bottle of antibacterial gel does for the outside of your body.
So, how to get these lovely bacteria working on your side? One of the easiest, safest, and most delicious ways is to have a daily dose of yogurt. Just make sure that the package says “live cultures” and you will be on your way to a happier intestinal tract. Of course, there are also a number of other ways to make friends with these good bacteria:
- Drink probiotic drinks such as kefir, kombucha, or other probiotic-labelled drinks.
- Take a high quality probiotic supplement
- Eat cultured foods such as sauerkraut.
Go ahead, try it! Making friends with bacteria is easier than you think and may just reap you the benefits of less sickness next flu season and an overall healthier you!
Sources for this article include: