Bacteria line your intestines and help you digest food. During digestion, they make vitamins that are vital for life, send signals to the immune system, and make small molecules that can help your brain work.

“Without gut bacteria, we wouldn’t be anything. They are a critical part of us and essential to our health,” Snyder says.

Ongoing research reveals that people with certain diseases often have a very different mix of bacteria in their intestines compared to healthier people. Researchers are working to define the makeup of gut bacteria in a healthy person vs. the gut bacteria that can point to higher risk or presence of certain diseases.

Some evidence suggests it’s not the presence or absence of one particular type of bacteria that makes a microbiome a healthy one, but rather the diversity of bacteria.

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