When most people hear the word bacteria, they think of disease. But even though it’s true that many kinds of bacteria do causes diseases, other kinds are actually very important to human health. Millions of friendly bacteria live on your skin and inside your body, and they help you in many different ways. In fact, your digestive system and your immune system both rely on assistance from bacteria to do their jobs.
But these friendly bacteria may be under threat. Genetic engineering is bringing about huge changes in the global food system. More and more, farmers around the world are growing designer crops engineered to produce more food, resist disease and pests, and grow in a wider range of climates. These new foods can be very helpful to people, but scientists can’t be certain that they’re completely safe. Some new evidence suggests that genetically modified foods can be harmful to the friendly bacteria living in your gut. The risk seems to be especially great when genetically engineered foods are grown with a common kind of weed-killer called RoundUp.
Friendly bacteria in your stomach are keeping you healthy, but are you keeping them healthy? #HealthStatus
- 1Scientists are discovering that helpful bacteria are essential for human health, including for digestion, the immune system, and even mental health.
- 2But genetically modified foods, and the pesticides and herbicides used to grow them, may be damaging to these bacteria. One herbicide, RoundUp, could pose serious health risks.
- 3Lots more research needs to be done on the effects of GM foods and RoundUp, but for now, people should try to reduce their exposure by sticking to natural, organic foods.
Why are gut bacteria so important?
It’s a little unsettling to think about billions of tiny creatures living inside your body, but according to scientists these critters are actually essential for human health. They call these bacteria and other microscopic organisms the microbiome, and new research shows that the microbiome helps keep people healthy in several different ways. Bacteria living in the stomach and intestines appear to play a special role in at least three important processes.
First, bacteria in the stomach and intestines are part of the digestive process. In health class, you probably learned about the importance of macronutrients—fats, proteins and carbohydrates. You might also have learned about micronutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and many others. The foods we eat contain varying amounts of all sorts of micronutrients and macronutrients, but our digestive system isn’t always good at accessing them. In fact, many micronutrients like zinc can only be digested with the help of bacteria. If you didn’t have any bacteria living inside you, you wouldn’t be alive for long.
Second, bacteria work hand in hand with your immune system to fight off diseases. The many healthy species that make up the microbiome actually fight off other, more harmful kinds of bacteria. A good example is salmonella, a very dangerous bacteria that can cause severe infections and even kill you. You can catch salmonella by eating meat that hasn’t been properly cooked, but most people who are exposed to the pathogen never get sick because their friendly bacteria fight off the bad guys.
Last, but not least, friendly bacteria seem to be very important for mental health. Scientists have known for decades that people who take antibiotics can become depressed, but no one was quite sure why. Recent experiments have found that one reason is that antibiotics can kill off helpful bacteria species. In a recent experiment, scientists at Stanford University even found that mice with poor microbiomes are less intelligent than normal mice and have less will to live when exposed to danger.
As more and more research pours in, scientists are becoming convinced that friendly bacteria are essential for healthy lives. But lots more research needs to be done. Scientists are only beginning to understand the important role that bacteria play in processes like digestion, immune responses, and mental health. Unfortunately, changes in the way people get their food may be threatening the microbiome in ways that people simply can’t predict.
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GM Foods May Be Destroying Vital Bacteria
Genetically modified foods have become incredibly common around the world. In some ways, this is a good thing. Genetic modification can make food more nutritious. For example, one of the first GMOs was a new kind of rice designed to produce vitamin A. It may have saved millions of people from becoming blind due to vitamin A deficiency. Other GMOs are more resistant to droughts or severe weather, helping to prevent famines. The problem with these engineered foods is that scientists don’t completely understand them, and they haven’t had time to study them properly. Unfortunately, some evidence su