The Real Difference Between Good And Bad Bacteria

When we think of bacteria, our minds often go immediately to thoughts of illness, germs, or infection. In other words — bad bacteria. However, bacteria isn't all bad. While some kinds of bacteria can be harmful, bacteria is essential for our survival. According to the National Center for Health Research, bacteria inhabits our body the moment we're born. As we continue to be exposed to bacteria in our day-to-day lives, the amount in our body can add up to a total weight of 3 pounds! While that may sound like a lot, good bacteria is crucial for immune function, repairing tissue, and breaking down food and toxins.

Most importantly, an abundance of good bacteria helps limit the likelihood of infection from bad bacteria. Bacteria live both internally and externally on our body (via Nova Biologicals). When bad bacteria, or pathogens, enter the body, through an open wound or contaminated food for example, that can negatively impact our muscle, tissue, and nerve function, as well as blood cell count.

So what are some different types of bad bacteria and what can we do to help our good bacteria thrive?

How to keep your gut happy and healthy

Our intestines can house as much as 100 trillion natural bacteria, according to research conducted by Arizona State University. However, some bad bacteria, like Streptococcus or Staphylococcus, can cause disease (via Nova Biologicals). You may have heard of E.coli, for example; a strain of bacteria that can cause vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea (via Mayo Clinic). But some amount of E.coli bacteria naturally exists in the gut. Generally speaking, the amount of potentially harmful bacteria in our bodies is minimal and not cause for alarm, but if the amount of bad bacteria begins to outnumber the good bacteria, this can result in inflammation, or lead to certain medical conditions such as pneumonia or cancer, according to the National Center for Health Research.

To help keep your gut in working order, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine offers various suggestions to help your good bacteria to thrive. Eating fiber and other food items that naturally fuel good bacteria, such as spinach, beans, oats, and garlic, can help reduce inflammation while boosting immunity and mood. Also, consider limiting red meat and dairy, as both can increase the development of bad bacteria while hindering the growth of good bacteria. Lastly, because we never want our good bacteria to be outnumbered, avoid the use of antibiotics when possible. While they work to kill off the bacteria making us sick, they also do away with our good bacteria in the process.