During the first 99,500 years of our existence, we had no idea that bacteria existed – they were simply too small for us to see. Bacteria are about 1 micrometer long. To put that into context, if you have a thousand of them and put those in a line, the line will only be 1 millimeter long. That's how small they are.
It wasn’t until two hundred years ago that we first discovered bacteria. It all began when scientists started looking into what caused people to get sick and discovered something tiny swimming around in the blood of people who were not well, which didn’t exist in the blood of healthy people. In 1840 the German scientist Henle proposed that microorganisms in a diseased body are living and parasitical. And, in 1905 one of his students, Robert Koch, was awarded the Nobel Prize for his studies on the harmful bacteria behind diseases such as tuberculosis.
One of the reasons why bacteria have had – and to some extent still have – such a bad reputation is that scientists did not have the equipment back then to analyze microorganisms. But although it is true that harmful bacteria can make you sick, they are by far outnumbered by the good bacteria you need to stay healthy.
Bacteria: our tiny superheroes
Did you know that there are ten times more bacteria in your body than there are human cells, and they weigh as much as our brain? We all carry around one to two kilos of microorganisms every day; these include bacteria, yeast, fungi, viruses, and parasites. These are all part of our own personal microbiota. Our very first good bacteria are acquired from our mothers when we are born. What do they do and how are they beneficial? The answer is in a lot of ways. Bacteria play an essential role in keeping our bodies healthy. The bacteria on your skin, in your airways, and in your digestive system serve as the first line of defense against harmful bacteria.
Take care of Your Gut and Your Gut Will Take Care of You
Your microbiota consists of trillions of bacteria belonging to thousands of different species, as many as 90-95 % of which reside in your gut that is also home to 80 % of your immune system. By outnumbering the harmful bacteria, the good bacteria in your gut microbiome can protect you from bad germs that causing illness and disease. They also help to digest the food you eat, absorb nutrients, and produce vitamins that you cannot produce yourself: for example, niacin, folic acid, vitamin B6, and B12. These tiny superheroes help balance your immune system, making sure it neither overreacts nor becomes too lazy. The good bacteria in your gut may even affect your brain and your mood. One of the keys to staying healthy is to keep your gut in balance by supporting the good bacteria.
5 Tips to support your gut health
The best thing you can do to support the good bacteria in your gut is to keep a healthy lifestyle. This includes everything from exercising on a regular basis to eating healthy and nutritious foods and reducing stress. Here are some gut friendly tips to include in your everyday life:
- Choose foods high in nutrients and fiber. You can also add foods that contain beneficial bacteria such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods to give your gut microbiome an extra boost.
- Add a daily probiotic. On top of keeping a healthy diet, a daily probiotic will provide your gut microbiome with an extra dose of good bacteria.
- Exercise regularly. Studies have shown that exercising 150 minutes per week can benefit your gut health. Duration is key, so try to stay active throughout the day. Why not bike to work and treat yourself to a lunch or evening walk?
- Meditate. When studying Tibetan monks, researchers found that regular meditation can help regulate the gut microbiome. Treat yourself and your gut to a moment of peace, presence, and deep breathing.
- Try to avoid antibiotics. When you use antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, you also kill the good bacteria that can harm your gut health.