Let’s have a quick round of free association.

If I say “bacteria”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Going bad?

Getting sick?

It’s true that bacteria are responsible for sinus infections and Montezuma’s Revenge.

How about that scent under your pits on a hot summer day? Yep, you guessed it…bacteria.

But causing disease and decay is not all bacteria are good for. Like many things in life, they have a good side and a bad side.

Now, I’m not telling you to stop washing your hands or go play with a rabid squirrel. But lately we’ve gone overboard trying to avoid and destroy every germ we may come in contact with. We’ve vilified a whole class of micro-organisms when many of them are actually our friends.

It’s time for us to look at these no-see-ums a little differently.

You see, bacteria may not be sexy, but without them you’d be dead. Literally. There are ten times more bacterial cells than human cells in your body,  and most of them work hard to keep you healthy, alive and kicking.

What bacteria are good for

I started to make a list of all the reasons why we need these little buggers, when I stumbled upon this link to some of the more important ones.

In a nutshell, good bacteria can:

  • Improve our immune function.
  • Improve our digestion.
  • Help us harness energy and nutrients from our food
  • Edge out the bad bacteria that creep into our systems.
  • Reduce asthma and allergies.

There’s even a new theory that exposure to germs might helps us avoid Alzheimer’s.

How to get more good bacteria

I’ve been giving my kids probiotics since they were very young, so in my house we call good bacteria “happy bac.” Here are a few easy ways to increase the amount of happy bacteria in your life:

  • Eat PRObiotics every day. Take a daily supplement and eat more fermented foods like yogurt, unpasteurized cheese, and pickled veggies.
  • Reduce your intake of sugar and refined carbs. Turns out bad bacteria are as addicted to these as we are.
  • Eat more PREbiotics. Good germs like fruits and vegetables like bananas, leeks, artichokes and garlic.
  • Go easy on the anti-bacterial products. Turns out being anti-bacterial isn’t always the best thing for our health. Anti-bacterial products like hand sanitizers, dish soap, even toothpaste contain harmful chemicals like triclosan and pthalates, and can ultimately backfire by promoting the growth of  anti-bacterial-resistant strains of bacteria.

How do you get more beneficial bugs in your life?