The Good, the Bad and the Gut: Bacteria Plays a Big Role in Good Health

Feb 22, 2018

You use anti-bacterial soap and creams. You may have anti-bacterial surfaces in your kitchen. And chances are you’ve taken antibiotics at one time or another to battle a bacterial infection. They all minimize contact with disease-causing bacteria.

“Better hygiene and modern medicine have definitely increased our life-expectancy and minimized unnecessary deaths due to severe infection,” says Anna Toker, MD, a board-certified colorectal surgeon with USMD. “But these products also have led to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that are a huge public health risk.”

So, what’s the deal with bacteria? And what should you know to make informed decisions regarding your exposure to it.

Bacteria 101

Bacteria are single-cell, self-contained organisms that have the ability to replicate. Because they are so good at replicating, bacteria are literally everywhere. Your skin, teeth, mouth, nose, ears, eyes, trachea, intestines, and rectum are all coated in bacteria. The only time you were not encased in this biofilm was right before you were born. From the moment of your birth, everything you touched, ate or drank transferred bacteria to your body.

“The reason you haven’t died from a bacterial infection by now is because the bacteria that live on and in you are now protecting you like little soldiers on a battle front,” Dr. Toker explains. “They not only protect you from illness, bacteria also provide valuable nutrients and co-factors your body can’t make and that aren’t present in the foods you eat.

Believe it or not, bacteria are your best friends. When your intestines are coated in just the right amount of “good” bacteria, you feel well. You digest food without difficulty. You don’t get ear or sinus infections. Your complexion remains clear. You don’t get yeast infections. You have energy.

“If the proportion of good bacteria gets out of whack, “bad” bacteria moves in,” says Dr. Toker. “Unfortunately, bad bacteria grow faster than the good guys, and provides zero benefit to your body. They don’t provide healthy nutrients—instead they only produce toxins that make you feel bloated and tired. Your skin breaks out. You may get frequent sinus infections or yeast infections.

While we often blame our health problems on your diet, a lot of health issue are most likely related to biofilm being out of balance.

Finding the right balance

What causes this imbalance to happen? Most often, antibiotics are responsible for the shift in your colon. Women are familiar with this because they’ll often get a yeast infection after taking antibiotics.

Dr. Toker says there’s another culprit: a colon cleansing.

“Whoever is marketing the colon cleanse craze must be making a killing,” she adds. “Just in case you are wondering, stuff you ate 20 years ago is not stuck to the walls of your colon like spackle! But your front line of soldiers are there and a violent episode of diarrhea flushes them out! When you flush away the good bacteria, the bad bacteria infiltrates, which then leads to gas bloating, a poor complexion, and low energy—all the symptoms the colon cleanse advocates say are reduced with a cleanse.

Staying away from sweet killers

More common than colon cleanse, though, is another arch enemy of your colon—artificial sweetners.

“Often we think eating light and losing weight will make us feel better, but if you use a lot of artificial sweetner you can end up feeling worse,” Dr. Toker warns. “Real sugar is absorbed by your body long before intestinal bacteria sees it. It is easily digested, which is why sugar can make you fat. In contrast, artificial sweetners aren’t absorbed like sugar. They not only make their way to the intestines, but feed bad bacteria which uses the artificial sweetner to make gas and acid products that lead to bloating. They can also change the pH of the intestines—allowing bad bacteria to replicate at a faster rate than good bacteria. That’s why it’s best to avoid artificial sweetners to keep your biofilm intact and healthy. If you have a sweet tooth, it’s better to use real cane sugar.”

Feed your gut with good stuff

Yogurt is a tried-and-true remedy for restoring good bacteria to your intestines. Why? Because lactobacillus (the bacteria used to make milk yogurt) is good bacteria. Re-populating your intestines with a large volume of good bacteria helps get rid of the bad guys. Unfortunately, yogurt isn’t always tasty.

“Like so many foods, today’s yogurt is often highly processed and altered to contain far less bacteria than the old-fashioned home-made variety,” Dr. Toker adds. “My advice is to eat the old fashioned sour stuff. You’ll be shocked at how good it makes you feel.”

If you don’t like yogurt, “probiotics” (good bacteria) are available in pill.

“They’re safe for daily use, and can keep your biofilm healthy,” says Dr. Toker. “If I could have a gumball machine in my office, it would be full of probiotic pills. They really do fix what ails you. There are many brands to choose from, and they all have a slightly different mix of good bacteria in them. I tell people to try them all to find the one that works best for them and stick to it.”

If you to like to schedule a consultation with Dr. Toker, please call USMD Arlington South Colon Rectal Clinic at 214.942.3740.

Dr. Anna Toker colon rectal surgeon

Dr. Anna Toker, USMD Arlington South Colon Rectal Clinic