We hear alot about bacteria these days, both bad bacteria and good bacteria. With flu season, cold season and just any old season, bacteria is like a four letter word. In most cases we are told that bacteria is bad for us. We tell our children not to pick up things off of the ground, to wash their hands and to not touch dirty surfaces, in order to avoid bacteria. Yet there is another side to bacteria: the good side. Yes, there is good bacteria, many which already live in your digestive system. Now instead of avoiding bacteria, there are commercials and advertisements instructing us to consume more good bacteria. New studies continue to show the benefits and risks of good bacteria.
Types of Good Bacteria
There are two main categories of good bacteria: bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Bifidobacteria exists in the colon, while lactobacilli is found in the small intestine. When choosing probiotic supplements, those found with either or both of these will have the greatest health benefits.
Benefits of Good Bacteria
Good bacteria are also known as probiotics. Probiotics assist the body with digestion, allowing optimal bowel function. A diet rich in these organisms reduces inflammation of the digestive system that is caused by foreign microorganisms. Because good bacteria fights off bad bacteria, eating foods with a high probiotic content can greatly enhance the immune system. Some strains, like Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, can prevent diarrhea and can be absorbed in the system by eating yogurt regularly.
Other strains like Lactobaccillus rhammosus (LGG) Saccharomyces boulardii can ward off problems caused by antibiotic use. Antibiotics are prescribed for bacterial infections, but unfortunately they also kill off the good bacteria in the body. This can cause irritable bowels and diarrhea. You can prevent side effects from antibiotic use by supplementing your diet with these two probiotics.
Women who have common occurences of yeast infection can be proactive in preventing these by adding Lactobacillus acidophilus into their diet. Hydrogen peroxide is produced by this strain of bacteria, making it impossible for the yeast to survive. This is a simple way to stop these infections without messy creams or additional antibiotics.
A final benefit is that studies now show that regular consumption of good bacteria can also reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Risks of Good Bacteria
There are very few risks associated with the use of probiotics. The most common side affect is gastrointestinal discomfort.
Where to Find Good Bacteria
While there are several supplements that can be purchased over the counter, adding cultured dairy products to your diet can increase the amount of good bacteria in your body. Foods like yogurt and cheese foster an environment in the body that promotes probiotic growth. Read the label to be sure the dairy product uses live cultures, because these are the only ones that are truly beneficial. Most health food stores and nutrition centers now carry these supplements.
While most studies have shown benefits from these good forms of bacteria, more human testing still needs to be done. In the meantime, talk to your physician before deciding on adding supplements to your diet for a specific health problem. Your doctor will be able to assist you in finding the right form of probiotic to ensure the desired effects.