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‘Good’ germs can be beneficial

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DEAR DOCTOR K: Are all germs dangerous to our health?

DEAR READER: Not all microorganisms (also called germs or microbes) are bad for our health — far from it. Our knowledge of the impact of germs on our health has expanded greatly in just the past five years.

I think of germs in two categories. First, there are the germs that enter our bodies from the outside world and are usually with us only temporarily.

Second, there are the germs that constantly live on and in our bodies. They live on our skin, in our mouth and in our digestive tract. Germs in the first category can sometimes make us sick. Other times, they are killed by our immune system before that can happen.

For years we have known that many of the germs in the second category — the ones living on or in us — are beneficial. These good microbes help us bolster healthy immunity, digest fiber, detoxify poisons and drugs, and even make some vitamins. So the answer to your question is that some germs are beneficial.

In the “old days” (before a few years ago) we thought that most of the germs that live on or in us all of our lives were not affecting our health in any way. We thought of them as just being along for the ride, bumming food and warmth from us. We always knew there were a lot of them:

There are 10 of them for every one of the cells in our body.

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