For decades, bacteria were seen as the villain in medicine — but more recently we've learned that many, or at least those that live in our gut, can play a vital role in health. April 3, 2018. (CDC via AP, File)

For decades, bacteria were seen as the villain in medicine — but more recently we've learned that many, or at least those that live in our gut, can play a vital role in health. Too much of the wrong sort is linked to weight gain, cardiovascular disease, stroke and even possibly dementia.
But nothing in medicine is ever black and white. Take the role of organisms called fusobacteria. For some years, we've known that these are found in greater quantities in colon cancer tissue.
The bacteria's DNA is found in 50 % of colorectal cancer cells but is not found in healthy cells nearby. But what it was doing in these cells was not clear. Now, Fusobacteria have been found in metastatic colon cancer cells, suggesting that they could be more than a bystander and could actually cause the tumours.
Research is ongoing to see whether tumours can be prevented by identifying carriers of these organisms and eradicating them with suitable antibiotics.
But antibiotics can also upset the balance of our gut bacteria, potentially allowing the ‘bad' to flourish — perhaps leading to health problems such as weight gain and cardiovascular disease. See what I mean about nuance?
The problem is that our good bacteria are constantly under attack from our reliance on antibiotics and our dedication to an ever- cleansed lifestyle. The key is not to act once the horse has bolted, as it were, stopping the bad bacteria once they're in situ, but to prevent this imbalance in the first place.
In terms of gut bacteria, that means a diet low in processed foods and high in probiotics and prebiotics (the types of fibre good bacteria feed on, such as onions, leeks, artichokes) and avoiding antibiotics if possible.
Now research is focusing on how the bacteria that colonise our skin can be beneficial, too. It begs the question of whether we need to be washing ourselves so very much.

Daily Mail