The bacteria living in your digestive tract outnumber all the cells in your body by 10-to-1. And while that fact might freak out some of us germ-o-phobes, new research shows that the microbes – which scientists call gut flora – have a significant impact on our health.

  • Bacteria are so important to digestion that people who don’t have the right balance of organisms in their intestines are more likely to be overweight. Because certain bacteria influence weight gain, and other bacteria influence weight loss – and without a perfect balance, your metabolism drops, and you’re more likely to gain weight.

  • Gut Flora plays a role in heart disease. When we eat foods high in saturated fat – like red meat – our intestinal bacteria produces compounds that cause fat to stick to our artery walls. Scientists are only just beginning to understand this process - so your best bet right now is to avoid foods high in saturated fat as much as possible.

  • The phrase “gut feeling” is more accurate than we thought. UCLA researchers found that volunteers with higher levels of healthy bacteria in their gut showed more activity in the relaxation centers of the brain, and less activity in the areas associated with anxiety. Which means, the volunteers with high-probiotic levels were better able to deal with stress, and to cope with strangers who were upset.