When you hear the term “bacteria”, do you automatically assume they’re something bad?
The truth is, many of the trillions of bacteria living in your body are actually really good for you. In fact, you might even want more of them!
What Are Bacteria Anyway?
First of all, they aren’t viruses, although people often confuse the two. Bacteria are microscopic one-celled organisms that can grow on non-living surfaces and survive between cells. Viruses, on the other hand, have no cells of their own so they need a living host in order to multiply. This means they invade host cells and, as a result, they’re always harmful.
Trust Your Gut
Your digestive tract is home to an estimated 100 trillion bacteria—ten times more than the total number of cells in your body. Beginning in infancy, “friendly” gut flora are a key part of good health, helping your body digest food as well as performing other useful tasks. By the time you’re an adult, gut flora may account for up to 80% of your immune system.
Keeping You Healthy
One of the main reasons your immune system is able to fend off attackers is that it can tell the difference between your own cells and foreign invaders. T cells, a type of white blood cell, are largely responsible for this activity.
Surprisingly, T cells aren’t only trained in the thymus—their normal home—but some can also be further refined in your digestive tract. Recent studies show that friendly bacteria provide “instruction” in the gut, converting immature T cells into regulating T cells and producing immune-activating molecules called cytokines. Cytokines signal white blood cells to move towards sites of inflammation, infection and trauma.
The Role of Probiotics
Want to help keep your immune system healthy to support your fight against invaders? Take probiotics. These live microorganisms are healthy bacteria that can help balance gut flora to help regulate intestinal function and digestion and are recommended as a health benefit by the World Health Organization, when administered in adequate amounts. A healthy digestive tract is important for a healthy immune system. You’ll find probiotics in yogurt and other fermented foods, as well as supplements like Digestive Advantage. Make sure the label says “live cultures”, though, because sterilization can destroy many of these beneficial little wonder-workers.