Bacteria: friend and foe

WRITER Christopher Wanjek highlights bacteria's positive attributes while encouraging readers to give up hope of living bacteria-free lives. Wanjek, who is also author of Bad Medicine and Food At Work, is blunt: "Bacteria outnumber human cells in your body 10 to one," he writes. "This is a good thing."

Our body and bacteria

Bacteria can be found in the digestive tract where they work with the body's chemicals to break down food into vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed. Numerous species of (harmless) bacteria are also found in the skin. These bacteria keep dangerous bacteria (commonly known as "germs") from attacking the skin.

While both regular and antibacterial soap destroy germ-ridden dirt, the antibacterial soap also kills the helpful bacteria that we need to keep germs at bay.

According to the Soap and Detergent Association, more than three-quarters of liquid soap and more than a quarter of bar soaps available today contain triclosan, an antibiotic that kills most bacteria, both good and bad.

Viruses not affected by anti-bacterial products

Wanjek reminds us that antibacterial products do not help to prevent colds and flu.

"Colds and flu are caused by viruses, not bacteria," he explains. "Most bacterial infections in the United States are (by) food-borne (bacteria): salmonella, listeria, and E. coli.  

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