Harvard Men's Health Watch

Can gut bacteria improve your health?

Initial research suggests certain bacteria in your gut can prevent and treat many common diseases.

bacteria
Image: newannyart/Thinkstock

In many ways, your gut bacteria are as vast and mysterious as the Milky Way. About 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad, live inside your digestive system. Collectively, they're known as the gut microbiota.

Science has begun to look more closely at how this enormous system of organisms influences—and even improves—health conditions, from heart disease to arthritis to cancer. But understanding how the gut microbiota works, and how you may benefit, can be daunting.

"This is a new frontier of medicine, and many are looking at the gut microbiota as an additional organ system," says Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann of the infectious diseases division at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. "It's most important to the health of our gastrointestinal system, but may have even more far-reaching effects on our well-being."

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