These Bugs Make You Better

Bacteria are bad, right? Not always. Yes, they can cause illness. But some of them, called probiotics, are actually good for you. In short, while harmful bacteria hate your guts, probiotic bacteria love your guts.

There are trillions of the healthy kind in the body, especially in the mouth, gut and vagina. Those in your belly live in a complex ecological equilibrium with other bacteria and help keep harmful ones from growing. Some produce healthy vitamins B and K. They may also aid digestion, improve absorption of nutrients, help reduce the formation of carcinogens and enhance immune function.

But many forces can throw off this delicate balance. Among them: aging, alcohol, poor diet, chronic illness and possibly even stress. Antibiotics are particularly troublesome. They destroy many of the beneficial bacteria on the way to killing the disease-causing ones they’re prescribed to treat.

When the balance in the digestive tract is disrupted, some of the harmful bacteria can grow too numerous, like weeds taking over a lawn, and cause intestinal distress, diarrhea or worse. Probiotics may help restore equilibrium. They’re found in foods like yogurt and in dietary supplements that contain various strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, among others.

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