Bacteria often gets a bad rap. From anti-bacterial soap and hand sanitizer to disinfectant wipes and surface sprays, we spend a great deal of time and effort trying to eliminate bacteria from our lives. But research shows that not all bacteria are created equal, and some bacteria can actually be beneficial. More and more, researchers are finding that gut bacteria offers a wealth of benefits to the human body.
The intestinal tract plays host to trillions of bacteria, which have an active role in digestion, nutrient absorption, immunity support, and fighting off harmful bacteria. These bacteria are acquired during the birthing process, and colonization of the gastrointestinal tract begins immediately. By the time you reach adulthood, these gut microbes can add up to approximately four pounds of your body weight.
In addition to supporting the immune system and promoting healthy digestion, gut bacteria is now suspected to play a role in preventing obesity and a variety of diseases. A 2006 study found differences in the gut bacteria found in thin mice and overweight mice. Additionally, when microbes from an overweight person were given to a thin mouse, the thin mouse gained weight. However, when microbes from a thin person were given to an overweight mouse, the overweight mouse experienced weight loss. This study raises the question of whether probiotic therapy can be used to prevent obesity in humans.
Further studies have revealed associations between gut bacteria and colon cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, allergies and diabetes (Source: Mirror). One study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that the gut bacterium A. muciniphila was considerably lower in mice with obesity and type 2 diabetes. When researchers gave probiotic supplements to raise levels of A. muciniphila in at-risk mice, they noted improved function of the gut lining and reduced fat mass, inflammation and insulin resistance (Source: Everyday Health).
Scientists have only scratched the surface of understanding the benefits of gut microbiota, but one thing is for certain: bacteria isn’t always the bad guy we’ve made it out to be. The next time you stop to appreciate your good health, remember that your gut bacteria played a part!