Trillions of bacteria live in the intestines of every person. Perhaps more disturbing is the suggestion that there are ten times as many bacterial cells in the human body as there are human cells. Remember that bacterial cells are smaller than human cells, but still, that’s a lot. Nobody has actually counted them all, but scientists are certain that the bacterial cells outnumber our body cells. Even though that may sound shocking, the truth is we couldn’t live without them. The collection of microbes inside you is called the microbiome, and it makes food digestion possible and plays an essential role in our immune system.
Every time we eat food, we take in bacteria. Your gut biome acts as the first line of defense in a fully-functional immune response. People often refer to “good bacteria” and “bad bacteria.” That distinction may be misleading because the helpful or harmful ways of those microbes may depend on the circumstances.
Gut bacteria work in the breakdown of carbohydrates. Research indicates that obese people have less diversity in their gut bacteria than lean people have. On the other hand, when gut bacteria digest foods such as eggs and beef, they produce a compound that can boost heart-disease risk. Some germs can make you sick, while others keep you healthy. Sometimes the same bacterial cells in the human body can do either, depending on circumstances.
Helicobacter pylori bacteria are known for causing ulcers in the digestive tract. They are present in the microbiome of half the world’s population. Most people don’t have a problem with stomach ulcers, but it is painful and dangerous for the small number who do. However, researchers have found that the absence of Helicobacter bacteria in the gut may lead to diseases of the esophagus, such as reflux and cancers. Other research has shown that Helicobacter species may help the immune system, even though they may lead to inflammation and ulcers.
So the “good” and “bad” distinction between bacteria may be a false dichotomy. Whether they are beneficial or harmful depends. Bacteria considered “bad” might be neutral or even helpful in certain situations. A person’s health status, stress, diet, and genetics all influence how we react to various bacterial cells in the human body.
Another beneficial use of bacteria could come from research into using them as a medical delivery system to regulate autoimmune diseases. There is a clear answer for those who consider bacteria as all bad and question why God would create them. As science continues to explore the complexity of the system of life, we see God’s wisdom in all of creation.
— Roland Earnst © 2023
References: The journal Science Immunology and livescience.com HERE, HERE, and HERE.