Good and Bad Bacteria in the Gut: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to gut health, everyone knows the basics. In a healthy person, good bacteria and bad bacteria live together in your gut, harmoniously balanced like a hippy commune for the entire body.

An imbalanced gut can cause digestive problems. These include bloating, belching, constipation, diarrhoea, And excruciating intestinal pain, otherwise known as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Yes, there is a host of trouble-making bad bacteria hoovering up your chocolate biscuits and making your bowels irritable.  


I’ll start by reminding you that I’m not a doctor, but in my fight for gut health, paying attention to a balanced microbiome has made a big difference.

So, buckle up. This post is all about the exciting world of bacteria, and how to improve the balance of your gut.

Good vs bad bacteria: Who’s actually living in your gut?

It’s important to get to know your neighbours (tenants? squatters?). According to Alanna Collen, there are 100 trillion fungi and bacteria in the gut and 4000 different species.

Check out Gut by medical student, Giulia Enders for an easy-to-follow overview. These little bugs can either boost or harm your health based on their kind and amount.

Here’s a picture.

Blue coloured good and bad Gut bacteria on black background

If you yearn to see them up close you can always head to Microbia in Amsterdam.

Gut health: Common good and bad bacteria

· E.coli:

This is a bacteria that most of us have heard of. It’s usually coupled with someone’s terrible food poisoning travel story. It’s actually safe most of the time and is normally found in the human gut. When things get out of balance, it can become dangerous, causing infections from tainted food or water.

E. coli infections can be treated with antibiotics and lots of rehydrating with both water and electrolytes.

Then you’ll need probiotics to combat the antibiotics. And prebiotics to feed the probiotics but we’ll get to that in a minute.

“That Time You Got E.coli” is a story you can tell again and again with an appropriate sage warning about the dodgy water your companion is about to drink.

· Helicobacter pylori:

No, it’s not a spell from Harry Potter.

H. pylori is considered a bad bacteria in the gut that rarely shows any signs or symptoms. In fact, like Candida, some people never know they have it. When it does show symptoms, it can be so similar to other conditions, it’s hard to diagnose.

Suffer from nausea, bloating, or belching? It could be an overgrowth of H. pylori.

It can also raise the risk of developing ulcers.

· Lactobacillus Plantarum:

This is a good bacteria found in the saliva and the gut. It protects the gut from bacteria that produce gas and balances digestive enzyme production.  

L Plantarum is also an antioxidant, supports the process of cholesterol elimination and is just a jolly good sport. We want more of this type in our gut. If you suffer from IBS for example, it can often be traced back to low levels of L. Plantarum.

When not relaxing in the gut, L. Plantarum can be found enjoying fermented food like sourdough, kimchi and sauerkraut. I haven’t tried fermenting yet, but since everyone is doing it, here’s a recipe to get you started.

· Faecalibacterium prausnitzii:

Is a dominant fellow, considered the most common species in our gut. F. prausnitzii (I double-checked I spelt that right) helps to regulate the immune system. These guys make up more than 5% of a healthy gut. So it makes sense that studies show supplementing F. prausnitzii as a probiotic helps treat IBS and the symptoms of poor gut health.

· Lactobacillus Rhamnosus:

This little guy rather disappointingly doesn’t resemble a tiny rhinoceros. In fact, it’s rod-shaped. Rhamnosus helps to control allergy reactions and histamine levels in the body.

Have a histamine intolerance?

Hives, digestive issues, and sinus problems could also be due to a lack of Rhamnosus in your gut. Histamine intolerance also has a connection with eczema and psoriasis dermatitis. 

You can find a long list of histamine-releasing foods here. With an anti-inflammatory diet to fight histamine buildup, try copper, B-6, Vitamin C, and apple cider vinegar: all antihistamines.

· Lactobacillus Acidophilus:

This is probably the most well-known good bacteria in the gut. Although naturally occurring, taking a supplement of L. acidophilus is generally the quickest way to improve gut health. You can find it in fermented foods like Kimchi and Kefir. It’s also added to yoghurts like this one, (It’s plant-based and there’s no added sugar).

L. acidophilus breaks down carbohydrates and lactose while keeping the gut acidic. This helps suppress the overgrowth of bad bacteria.

Highly recommended supplements include these from Holland and Barrett. 20 Billion may sound ridiculously loads but when you consider the trillions in your gut it’s a fairly conservative dose.

Photo by on Unsplash

· Bifidobacterium:

These little pioneers are among the first bacteria to colonize the human gut from birth.

Research shows Bifidobacterium has adapted to survive in ‘ecological niches’ like insect guts, sewage and your mouth. Isn’t that special?

Moving right along. This good bacteria has several different strains -including Bifidobacteria bifidum, Bifidobacteria infantis and Bifidobacteria lactis. Bifidobacterium breaks down complex carbs and produces vitamins like B12 and K2.

Just feed them bananas, onions, garlic and fermented foods and they may keep the E.Coli in check.

Not great for IBS sufferers. But you’ll be happy to know, Bifidobacterium strains are social drinkers so you can have that glass of red wine.

Unless, like me, you’ve got Rosacea too…

Also, cocoa, green tea, blueberries, and almonds will help them thrive. 

And according to the qualified folks over at Healthline:

  • Bifidobacteria infantis are good for relieving IBS symptoms
  • bifidum may help prevent Eczema
  • lactis can improve diabetes type 2 and cholesterol levels in women

All for the low low price of a cabbage or two.

Good bacteria vs bad bacteria in the gut

The presence of bacteria in the gut is essential for a functioning digestive system. But it’s not as simple as good bacteria vs bad bacteria.

When we talk about good and bad bacteria in the gut we’re talking about the balance of an ecosystem. When an overgrowth throws it off, we get sick. It’s in our best interest to do everything we can to maintain a healthy balance. 

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