In general, we are taught to believe that bacteria is a bad thing. They can cause infection, spread disease, and generally, make us miserable. Some bacteria can even be life-threatening. However, probiotics are becoming more and more a subject of study- the notion of ‘healthy’ bacteria that help our bodies, rather than hurt them. As it is, the body benefits from having a healthy array of ‘gut flora’ to help break down foods in the intestines. However, the benefits of gut bacteria go further than that. In fact, there’s some evidence that gut bacteria can help fight off cancer.
The gut bacteria help our bodies to break down things our stomach and liver can’t process entirely on their own. Among these are dairy products, the fermenting of which results in the gassiness we have after eating them. Some of these bacteria can actually bolster our immune system, interfering with more harmful or infectious agents, or squeezing them out by competing with them for space and resources. Because of the roles bacteria play in our bodies aside from infection, there’s been some speculation on how we can better benefit from their presence in our guts, and elsewhere, for that matter.
According to researchers from the US and France, the bacteria in the digestive system sometimes referred to as gut flora, or the microbiome may interact with cancerous tumors during cancer treatment, causing them to shrink. Based on their observation of the microbiome in cancer patients, both groups of researchers came to the conclusion that the presence of certain bacteria, as well as a general diversity of the bacteria present, could improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy drugs. This is an important finding because it may possibly lead to better, more efficient, and perhaps less expensive tools with which to fight cancer.