Breaking Bacteria


Written by Brian Dixon, Ph.D., a molecular and cellular biologist

Sponsored by USANA Health Sciences

Bacteria get a bad rap. The bacterial defendant is charged and found guilty of committing acts of illness and disease before it can get a fair trial. But if you reopen the investigation, you will see not all bacteria are bad to the bone.

Making a Case

Did you know that your body is more bacteria than anything else? About 90% of the human body is made up of bacteria that live in harmony with our body and most of which are necessary for keeping us alive and healthy.

The majority of our body’s bacteria spend their life in the gut where somewhere between 70 and 90% of your body’s immune cells also reside. Good bacteria probably work in tandem with your immune system to support gut health and to prevent invasion by harmful bacteria. Probiotics may play some role in assisting with certain roles played by existing gut microbes.

Cross Examination

Keep in mind the research on probiotics is in its infancy. Researchers are still trying to pick out and name all of the strains that inhabit the gut. Exactly what role many of the bacteria play is also still unknown. The biggest determiner of your GI tract’s microbiome is what you eat. Diets rich in fiber, for instance, tend to feed fiber-eating microbes in your gut. Skipping veggies and opting for a more meat heavy diet may encourage protein-chomping microbes instead. There is a lot of hype about consuming good bacteria with yogurts that contain live and active cultures. They do indeed contain living cultures of healthy bacteria, but it’s not clear if they survive the acid of the stomach and whether they make it to the gut to lend a helping hand.

Closing Argument

If you are trying to up the good guys in your microbiome, taking a probiotic supplement that contains both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium may help. It’s important to remember that the Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the contents contained in probiotic bottles. Before purchasing any probiotics, talk to your doctor about whether he or she recommends you take one and which bacteria and brands might be best. You can also find evaluations of probiotic supplements on Consumer Lab.

Brian Dixon, Ph.D.

Dr. Brian Dixon received his doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from Oregon State University. His work has focused primarily on the aging process, antioxidants, detoxification, cell-signaling and the therapeutic potential of lipoic acid. He has also researched heart disease and cancer as part of his graduate work. Dr. Dixon did his post-doctorate work at the Linus Pauling Institute until he joined USANA Health Sciences in January 2009. Currently, he is the executive director of health and science education. Among his many other duties, he lectures internationally on the importance of optimal nutrition as part of an overall healthy lifestyle.