When many people think about bacteria, they get the image of E. coli or staphylococcus, dangerous and disease-causing pathogens. However, not all bacteria are bad, and many are crucial for normal health and even for survival. Gut flora, or bacteria that live inside of the human digestive tract, including, believe it or not, E. coli, are necessary for digestive and overall health. Many experts consider the gut flora as a sort of additional organ, with responsibilities for the body’s digestion, immune responses, and even directly hindering the growth of harmful bacteria and organisms.
These gut flora are maintained in very specific balance in the body, and many things can disturb this balance. When you get sick, the invading pathogens along with the increased immune response can greatly diminish this population of gut flora, or so-called “good bacteria.” Making matters even worse, antibiotics have a devastating effect on the bacteria living inside your digestive tract, since antibiotics generally cannot differentiate between bad bacteria and good bacteria. This can lead to digestive issues, like an upset stomach and diarrhea, as well as to some overall health issues.
Fortunately, there are ways to replenish the good bacteria in the digestive tract though supplements and certain foods. The most popular supplement, which contains acidophilus – from the Latin meaning “acid-loving,” which is perfect for the digestive tract – comes in pill, powder, and drink form. It helps replace one of the most active cultures in the intestine, and each capsule can contain billions of beneficial bacteria.
Far easier than swallowing pills or foul powders, though, are foods that naturally contain high numbers of good bacteria. Yogurt is the most common of these. Yogurt is made by Lactobacillus, including acidophilus, which eat certain compounds in milk, and produce thickening agents and acid (this is what makes yogurt sour). These bacteria are generally allowed to continue to live inside the yogurt, where they not only help prevent it from spoiling, but they can also prove to be very beneficial to the health of the digestive tract and the entire body. Some yogurt doesn’t have live bacteria in it, but those that do will be labeled as containing “live and active cultures,” so make sure you look for this label when you are shopping for yogurt.