Some germs can be extremely harmful and contribute to life threatening illness when they are not properly treated. But not all microbes aka germs cause disease. Bacteria, viruses, and fungi are part of the ecosystems of our bodies. We’re made up of ten times as many microbial cells as human cells!
All of the microbes in our body together weigh three pounds – as much as our brains! This collection of microbes is called our biome. We need our biome to survive.
Microbes help maintain the health of our bodies. For example, they:
- make vitamins;
- break down tough plants so we can digest them;
- help to form our immune system and control inflammation.
Exposure to germs in early childhood teaches our immune system how to tell the difference between what is harmful and what is not. Allergies occur when the body sees ordinary, harmless things like pollen as harmful. Some research even suggests that bacteria may help us maintain a healthy weight and protect us from asthma.
When we kill microbes with antibiotics, we kill the good with the bad, which is why we should only take antibiotics when we really need them. And we shouldn’t think of all microbes as bad germs that need to be wiped out. Some illnesses are even treated using microbes.
Probiotics or microbe-containing yogurt are sometimes used to replace some of our “good” microbes that are destroyed by antibiotics.
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