Bacteria’s bad rap
Most of the time when we hear the word “bacteria” we shudder and pull out the disinfectant so we can rid our environment of the nasty intruders. While there are bad germs lingering about that can cause some serious diseases (like pneumonia, meningitis, strep throat and food poisoning)1, there are also good bacteria that actually help us stay healthy.
According to Healthline2 our bodies contain an estimated 100 trillion “good” bacteria, many of which live in our gut. And they’re not just good – they’re essential for our survival because they help us digest our food, absorb nutrients, and produce several vitamins in the intestinal tract. Even e. coli, the bacteria that causes symptoms of food poisoning when it’s found in improperly handled food, is fine when it’s the kind that’s already inside us helping our guts to work the way they should.3
How to protect yourself from the bad guys
There is more and more evidence that suggests overuse of antibacterial products may be doing more harm than good by creating drug-resistant bacteria and weakening the good bacteria we actually need in our bodies.
Experts suggest that simply making an effort to keep yourself and your environment clean versus overly sanitized is a better way to keep bacteria in the proper balance.4 Since back-to-school is often a time when kids are exposed to a whole host of bugs, these tips are particularly timely:
- Wash your hands often and well. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention5, you should give them a good scrub before and after prepping food, before eating, after using the washroom, after changing a child’s diaper or cleaning up a child who has just used the washroom, after blowing your nose or sneezing, after coughing, after touching garbage, after handling pet food and treats, and after touching or cleaning up after an animal. You should lather your hands using soap and warm water, then scrub them for at least 20 seconds before rinsing them clean and drying them on a clean towel or letting them air dry.
- Clean surfaces regularly, especially if someone is ill. Your countertops, taps, door knobs, remote controls, telephones – anything that is regularly touched or held – can be a hiding place for bad bacteria. A good wipe and rinse with a soapy cloth and water is a great way to keep bacteria at bay. If someone is sick with the flu, you might feel better about getting out the disinfectant spray to help stop it from spreading to other members of the family, but remember that simply making an effort to practice proper hygiene is very effective.
- Stay home from work, school, the gym, and everywhere else if you’re sick. Common sense dictates that keeping your germs to yourself is a great way to make sure everyone stays healthy. If you are out in public (or around other people in your home) cough or sneeze into a tissue – or into your crook of your arm if a tissue isn’t available – not your hands. Wash your hands after disposing of the tissue.
- Practice preventative medicine. Eat healthy, nutritious food; get plenty of exercise and a good night’s sleep; and manage your stress and anxiety (Link to anxiety article).
How to protect the good guys
You can help promote better health by taking good care of the friendly bacteria in your gut.6
- Eat foods rich in probiotics. Yogurt is a great source of probiotics – the good bacteria found in fermented foods that help stimulate the natural digestive juices and enzymes that keep your digestive system running well7. Dark chocolate, sauerkraut, pickles, Miso soup, and Kimchi are other great probiotic sources.8
- Eat lots of prebiotics. Whole grains, onions, garlic, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, and chicory root are all great sources of prebiotics, which may decrease irritable bowel syndrome and fat storage.
- Avoid fatty foods. According to some studies, dietary fats can damage the lining of your gut, and raise the population of unfriendly bacteria.
- Control your stress levels. It’s possible that stress alters the flora in your gut, causing a decrease in the level of good bacteria that keep everything running smoothly.
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