Are all bacteria bad?

We associate bacteria with dirt and diseases. But are all bacteria bad?

Bacteria are responsible for a number of diseases and infection. They include pneumonia (Streptococcus pneumoniae), meningitis (Haemophilus influenzae), strep throat (Group A Streptococcus), food poisoning (Escherichia coli and Salmonella), and a variety of other infections.

These bacteria are the reason why we wash our hands thoroughly before eating. To protect ourselves from these bacteria, we also have developed a range of antibiotics, the drugs designed to kill the disease-causing bacteria.

Yet, not all bacteria are bad. In fact, our bodies are home to trillions of ‘good’ bacteria and other microscopic life forms, collectively known as the human microbiota. This includes fungi, archaea, viruses and bacteria. They inhabit just about every part of the human body, living on the skin, in the gut, and up the nose.

Not only do we live in harmony with these beneficial bacteria, but they are also essential to our survival. Good bacteria, such as lactobacillus, help our bodies digest food and absorb nutrients, and they produce several vitamins in the intestinal tract — including folic acid, niacin, and vitamins B6 and B12.

When helpful bacteria multiply and thrive in our bodies, they act as our protectors. When we take antibiotics to treat an infection of harmful bacteria, we end up killing helpful bacteria in the process. This can cause an imbalance of bacteria in the body that can lead to gastrointestinal problems.

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