Loved, feared and hunted with a vengeance. If anything ever needed an extreme image makeover, it’s bacteria. We’ve always been told bacteria are Satan’s microbes, designed to make you sick. As a result, we’ve been forking over millions of dollars to buy antibacterial cleansers, wipes, soaps, bleaches and such, all in the effort to wipe these live, microscopic, single-cell beasts off the face of our dirty earth.
But now we’re learning just how advantageous some of those bacteria can be. You’ve no doubt seen probiotics sold in supplement form and, lately, added to drinks and food sold in your average grocery store. They’re not a cure-all by any means, but they’re another approach to health that’s getting more attention.
There are two distinct camps in the microbial world of bacteria. The nasty ones are E. coli—the strain of bacteria that often spawns traveler’s diarrhea—and salmonella, which causes food poisoning and extra-long stays in the loo. But there is the nice camp, too, which includes good-deed-doing bacteria that thrive in your body, especially in the gastrointestinal tract (in fact, there are even beneficial E. coli in the gut). The good strains keep you healthy by aiding digestion, bolstering your immune system and protecting you against illness.
Trouble is, sometimes that good bacteria count in your body gets diminished—in some cases, by a cycle of antibiotics that your doctor prescribed when other bad bacteria began to proliferate (unfortunately, antibiotics can’t distinguish good from evil), or perhaps during a bout of diarrhea that depleted you of valuable friendly microbes. For women, when bad bacteria prevail, it’s common for vaginal infections to occur; so it’s crucial for general health that the good bacteria maintain majority status.