Good bacteria vs. bad bacteria
The human body has both good and bad bacteria. Good bacteria is found in our digestive system, in our mouth, and on our skin. Bad bacteria can get into our bodies through open wounds, unsanitary foods, or polluted substances in the environment. Most bacteria is often thought of as bad because of the numerous illness and diseases bacteria can cause in our bodies.
However, not all bacteria is bad. Good bacteria helps us digest food, absorb nutrients, produces several vitamins in the intestinal tract like niacin, vitamins B12 and B6, and folic acid, as well as fights off bad bacteria to protect us from getting sick. Our bodies actually contain about 100 trillion “good” bacteria, most of which live in our gut. These bacteria actually outnumber our human cells ten to one. We need this ‘good’ bacteria because it is essential for us to survive.
Good bacteria is necessary to balance out the bad bacteria that enters our system on a daily basis. Good bacteria protects us from the bad bacteria. However, too much good bacteria can also be a problem. A good example of this is with the use of antibiotics. We use antibiotics to treat viruses, infections, and kill the bad bacteria that is causing them. But antibiotics can also kill the good bacteria. This can cause an imbalance of bacteria in the body, which can lead to other health conditions.
Why having balanced bacteria is important
Having a balance of good and bad bacteria is critical in order for our bodies to maintain overall health, well-being, and ultimately survive. It is important for nutrition, digestion, our immune system, and to prevent illness or disease. The balance of bacteria in our bodies is always changing due to what we eat and environmental factors.
The good bacteria in our digestive tract helps provide the body with essential nutrients and aids in digestion by producing B vitamins, vitamin K and other nutrients. These help our gut digest food, which drives the production of good bacteria. They ensure our the nutrients and water in our digestive tract are absorbed within the bowel, and ultimately keep our bowels healthy and reduces our risk for disease.
A balance of good and bad bacteria is also important for our immune system. Good bacteria fights off bad bacteria that tries to make us sick. They good bacteria produces natural antibiotics to protect us from the bad bacteria. It also trains our immune system to recognize when bad bacteria has entered our immune system, and to ignore any other substances that do not pose harm.
When there is an imbalance of good and bad bacteria, a number of health conditions can happen. This includes diseases and illnesses such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, allergic disorders, coeliac disease, asthma and certain cancers.
Bacteroides, Prevotella, and Ruminococcus
The type of gut we have, also known an enterotype, can be classified by three types of ecosystems: Bacteroides, Prevotella, and Ruminococcus.
- Bacteroides: consists of bacteria that get energy by fermenting sugars and proteins.
- Prevotella: contains bacteria that like to feed on proteins in the gut. Also makes vitamin B1 and folic acid.
- Ruminococcus: The most common type; consists of bacteria that like to feed on proteins in the gut as well as sugar. Also makes vitamin C, vitamin H, and others.
What causes imbalance of bacteria
Maintaining equilibrium within the gut’s ecosystem is important for overall health. However, it is not difficult to disturb this equilibrium and cause an imbalance of good and bad bacteria within the body. Normally, the good bacteria balances out the bad bacteria. But when the balance is out of place, bacteria and yeast can grow, multiply, and cause a range of health conditions.
The most common cause of an imbalance in bacteria is antibiotics. We use antibiotics as a way to fight off infections and viruses caused by bad bacteria that enters our body. But good bacteria can be easily harmed by antibiotics.
Other causes of an imbalance in bacteria are eating too much fat, sugar, and processed foods, drinking too much alcohol, taking drugs, too much stress, or toxins in the environment, such as food preservatives or additives.
How too much good or bad bacteria affects your body
Too much bacteria, otherwise known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), can cause a number of health problems in our bodies. Gastrointestinal disorders caused by too much bacteria include irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. An overgrowth of bacteria can absorb some of the food you eat faster than you are supposed to digest it. When this happens, the bacteria can create gas which causes cramps, abdominal pain, bloating, acid reflux, flatulence, constipation and diarrhea.
Too much bacteria can also cause unexplained weight loss associated with an inability to gain weight regardless of what you eat, and malnutrition or nutrient deficiencies regardless of how much nutrient-rich foods you eat. It may also cause diabetes, obesity, heart disease, allergic disorders, coeliac disease, asthma and certain cancers.
Signs and symptoms of imbalanced bacteria include:
- High cholesterol levels
- Intestinal gas
- Chronic vaginal infections, such as yeast infections
- Chronic bad breath
- Chronic diarrhea
- Chronic anemia
- Hormonal problems
- PMS or menstrual problems
- Prostate problems
- Breast enlargement in men
- Intolerance for dairy or allergic to dairy
- Vitamin B deficiencies
- Severe bruising
- Chronic bladder infections
If you have any signs or symptoms of an imbalance in bacteria, you may want to discuss this with a doctor. There is even specialized testing such as organic acid tests or stool tests to help determine if there is an imbalance in your gut. A doctor can then help you treat the imbalance until it returns to normal.
Tips to balance, or re-balance, your gut’s bacteria
- Eat a diet high in fiber and whole foods, aka probiotics. Feed the good bacteria with high-fiber foods and whole foods such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, bananas, and greens.
- Avoid, or limit, sugar, fat, and processed foods. These types of foods feed the bad bacteria in your gut.
- Take probiotics daily. Probiotics come in the form of a supplement as well as some foods. This can improve your digestive health and reduce inflammation caused by too much bacteria.
- Avoid bacteria-harming drugs such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or acid blockers. These can do more harm as they kill the good bacteria in our gut.
- Drink more water. This helps with digestion and can help prevent constipation, which can make it difficult for good bacteria to survive.
- Reduce stress.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your digestive system. They are known as good bacteria because they help keep your gut healthy. While they are naturally found in your body, they can also be found in the form of supplements and certain foods. They can help rebalance your levels of bacteria by restoring the good bacteria in your body that have been lost, lowering the amounts of bad bacteria in your body that can cause infections or viruses, and they can help balance both the good and bad bacteria to ensure stability within your immune system.
Probiotics are recommended because they can help improve digestion as a result of various health conditions including irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, infectious diarrhea, and anti-biotic related diarrhea.
Two Types of Probiotics
There are two main types of probiotics: lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Lactobacillus is the most common type of probiotic, and is found in yogurt or other fermented foods. This type can help with diarrhea or people who have trouble digesting lactose. Bifidobacterium, which is found in some dairy products, can help reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. You can find probiotic supplements at any pharmacy or health food store.
Probiotics can also be found in various food sources. Good food sources of probiotics you should be adding to your diet include yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, microalgae, pickles, tempeh, kimchi, and poi.