The good, the bad, and the gross… Farouj Manji explains the wonderful world of bacteria.
Walking in Dundrum Town Centre the other day, I saw a little girl eating spoonfuls of bacteria. Her mother was drinking bacteria, and loving it. Her dad however, was simply playing with the bacteria on his plate. Chances are, you’re eating some right now, and you like it. Oh yes, you do.
Every one of us has an abundance of bacteria on us and in us. It is on our skin, in our mouths, and up our noses. In fact, you have more bacteria in your gut than there are people in this world. And these little bad boys (and girls) are quite helpful.
Our body’s natural bacteria, or flora, help us in many ways. They stop harmful bacteria from colonising by taking up all the space, they produce vitamins in your gut, and they give you the courage to talk to that special crush.
There are also bad bacteria of course, which can sometimes get into your body and do naughty things. Some give you infections, and thus make you sick. Others are responsible for your smelly farts, which make your friends sick.
Studies have shown that regular, effective doses of probiotics can reduce the duration of a cold, help with constipation, stomach ulcers and help develop mad X-box skills
So how do you introduce ‘good’ bacteria into your gut? The answer, as any one of your mates will eagerly point out, is probiotics. Good bacteria is usually present in high amounts within cultured dairy foods such as yoghurt. By consuming these products we get the bacteria too. So what exactly happens when you down your lactobacillus lager? Lets find out.
When you ingest bacteria of any type, it goes through a number of hellish stages before it can hit your intestines (where all the magic happens). The saliva in your mouth has antibacterial properties. Your stomach acid is lower than pH 3, which kills most bacteria that venture there.
Therefore, you need a certain amount of bacteria in your meal in order for some to make it through, and they must have some resistance to the stomach acid, pancreatic juices and bile that attack it.
Scientists say that there should be 1 million to 1 billion active cultures per gram of food to be a probiotic. When in the appropriate amounts, they work. Studies have shown that regular, effective doses of probiotics can reduce the duration of a cold, help with constipation, stomach ulcers and help develop mad X-box skills.
However, the probiotic industry is relatively unregulated as of yet. Products can be effective, have too little bacteria, or the wrong type. Experts have found that major brands such as Actimel or Yakult generally contain the right amounts of bacteria.
But for those requiring lower sugar content, or a lactose free option, probiotic capsules/sachets such as those manufactured by DTECTA Probiotics or others may be an alternative.
So the next time you eat yogurt, drink a Yakult or lick jelly off the floor, keep in mind the millions of bacteria that you are ingesting, and be thankful that most of them are on your side, and not on your mate’s.