Good and Bad Body Germs

Germs often get a bad rap, but many of the ten thousand species of bacteria which live in our bodies are essential to our health. Dr. Melissa Lem shares some of the best and worst germs out there.

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Good Germs: Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and Propionibacterium

1. Lactobacillus

Where it lives: Mostly in your digestive system.

What it does: Studies show that it can help prevent and treat conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and infectious diarrhea by crowding out bad bugs. Ladies get an extra bonus — lactobacilli also grow in a protective layer over the vaginal mucosa, which helps you avoid yeast infections.

How to get it: Think fermented dairy, soy and vegetable foods like yogurt and kefir, miso and tempeh, or sauerkraut and kimchi, a Korean side dish that contains up to four times as many lactobacilli per gram as yogurt.

2. Bifidobacterium

Where it lives: Mostly in your large intestine.

What it does: Along with its benefits for your digestive health, it also produces Vitamin K. In fact, most of the vitamin K in our bodies is made in our intestines by good bacteria. What's more, children who eat lots of bifidobacteria get less eczema and cold and flu symptoms because they "talk" to your immune system, telling it what to ignore and what to fight.

How to get it: Choose fermented milk products like yogurt, kefir and cheese made with bifidobacteria. Breastfeeding is a super source for babies. Good bacteria love fibre, so feed them with prebiotic-rich foods like whole grains, onions, garlic and artichokes.

3. Propionibacterium

Where it lives: Your skin and sweat glands.

What it does: Along with other good germs that live on your skin, it forms a protective shield that repels nasty invaders like fungi and bad bacteria. A recent study revealed that people with clear skin have high amounts of one type, P. acnes RT6, hanging out in their pores.

How to get it: The good news is that you probably already have it. One important way to keep your skin healthy is by banishing triclosan from your household, a chemical found in hundreds of "antibacterial" consumer goods from toothpaste to kitchen utensils. Not only does triclosan kill good bacteria along with the bad, but it also leads to resistant bugs.

Bad Germs: MRSA, Toxoplasma and Super-Gonorrhea


4. MRSA

Where it lives: Warm and moist areas like your nose, armpits and groin.

What it does: Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus is one of the most common super-bugs, or antibiotic-resistant organisms, and killed almost 20,000 Americans in 2005. Once found only in hospitals, outbreaks are now happening in places like gyms and schools. It's even been found on supermarket meats!

How to get rid of it: If you notice spreading sores or an infection that isn't healing, see your doctor to get tested, then treated with specific antibiotics or ointments. To avoid it, cut down on unnecessary antibiotic use, shower immediately after you hit the gym, cover up your cuts and scrapes, and don't pick your nose!

5. Toxoplasma

Where it lives: Cysts in your brain and muscles.

What it does: Toxoplasma is a protozoan germ that lives in 1 in 4 North Americans. Infected men tend to have lower IQs, slower reflexes and riskier behaviour. In fact, they're almost 3 times more likely to be in a car accident. On the other hand, infected women tend to have higher IQs and be more trusting and outgoing. Unfortunately, it's also been linked to anxiety and depression. You're most likely to get toxoplasma from raw or undercooked meat, and poop from your favourite feline — yes, your cat could be making you crazy!

How to get rid of it: Once it sets up shop in your brain there is no good treatment. Avoid it by thoroughly disinfecting cookware and hands after contact with raw meat, and freezing it to kill cysts beforehand. Also, be sure to wear gloves and change that kitty-litter box daily, because toxoplasma only becomes infectious 1-5 days after it's shed in cat poop.

6. Super-Gonorrhea

Where it lives: Your reproductive organs.

What it does: This is a very scary super-bug that causes inflammation and discharge, and untreated can lead to infertility, fever, rash and even death. It was detected for the first time in North America in 2010 and is now resistant to all oral antibiotics known to man!

How to get rid of it: You'll need a specific antibiotic injection combined with pills if you contract it — but scientists know it's only a matter of time before it becomes resistant to this one too. To avoid it, make sure you know your partner's sexual history, and always use protection.

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