What are good bacteria?
We have bacteria throughout our whole bodies including our mouths, respiratory tract, digestive tract, urinary tract and skin. Good bacteria living in our bodies are often referred to as the microflora. Babies gain their first exposure to good bacteria at birth when they pass through the vaginal tract and are also exposed through breast milk. Bacteria found in the digestive tract of babies are different to adults but by the age of two people have developed adult microflora through eating adult foods.[i] The type and quantity of bacteria depend on the location in the body. Most good bacteria are found in the large intestine.
What do good bacteria do?
The good bacteria in our bodies have many functions. They help our intestines digest and absorb nutrients, synthesize vitamins and essential short chain fatty acids from soluble fibre, protect us from infection and stimulate and regulate the immune system. If our body did not contain any good bacteria we would be very sick and die within a few years.[i]
The digestive tract contains 80% of the body’s immune system.[i] The good bacteria form a barrier in the mucosal lining against microbes. Gaps can be created in this layer when a person has a poor diet, especially one low in fibre and high in processed foods and alcohol, antibiotics, stress (including from excessive exercise in elite athletes), lack of sleep or infections. This leaves space for bad microbes to take hold and cause illness.
Signs of deficient good bacteria
The digestive system is the cornerstone to good health. It is actually an external organ as it is exposed directly to elements from the outside world. It is where nutrients are absorbed as well as many pathogens. A poorly functioning digestive system can result in a wide range of symptoms. These may include increased infections, bloating, IBS, diarrhea, eczema, allergies, food intolerances, and autoimmune diseases.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the supplement form of good bacteria. Probiotics work by displacing the bad bacteria that try to adhere themselves to the digestive tract.[i] There are many different strains of bacteria that may be in a supplement. Different pathologies will respond better to different strains. Taking probiotics can help to heal the above mentioned conditions as well as decrease the incidence of asthma and allergies in children when taken during pregnancy, improve breast pain in nursing mothers,[ii] and help treat pelvic inflammatory disease, thrush, and Gardnerella vaginalis, [iii] Supplementation has also been found to prevent and treat bad breath, periodontal disease and cavities.[iv] Yogurt contains good bacteria but not enough to treat most disorders. Most yogurts also contain large amounts of sugar that deplete your immune system. Please read my blog article called “Healthy Eating?” for more information about hidden sugars.
If you think you may need probiotics talk to your local naturopath. Although probiotics can treat some disorders, some symptoms may return once supplementation is stopped if you don’t find the cause of your problems.
[i] Plummer N. Dysbiosis and Disease: Ground breaking new research into probiotics and their role in preventing treating disease (unpublished lecture notes). FIT-BioCeuticals, Ltd. Online. 2010
[ii] Koeman M. Conditions of the Breast (unpublished lecture notes). Health Masters Live, online; lecture given 2013 Nov 12.
[iii] O’Flynn K. Cervical and Vaginal Conditions (unpublished lecture notes). Health Masters Live, online; lecture given 2013 Nov 28.
[iv] Anilkumar K, Monisha AL. Role of friendly bacteria in oral health - a short review. Oral Health Prev Dent. 2012; 10(1):3-8.