Understanding E. Coli Bacteria

Understanding E. Coli Bacteria

  • Probiotics 101

  • By Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian

    Even folks who don’t know much about bacteria have heard about E.coli. Escherichia coli, or E.coli for short, is a species of bacterium best known for making us sick. They are why your ‘burger is done at 71’ and why Varadero gets its revenge. However, you may not realize that as a species, there are many different strains of E.coli bacteria; in fact, E.coli is a very common species in the human gut…and most strains of E.coli aren’t harmful1!


    Understanding E.coli Infection

    However, while not all strains of E.coli make us sick, the ones that do are a major problem: E.coli infection is a leading cause of diarrhea worldwide1,4. E.coli infection may also be associated with nausea, vomiting, fever, and dehydration4. The bacteria are transmitted due to poor sanitation practices, allowing fecal matter to be consumed via mouth whether from hard surfaces, contaminated meat, water, or improper handwashing1,4. E.coli causes dangerous infectious diarrhea in infants in underdeveloped countries1,4. In adults, the most common methods of contracting E.coli infection are travel and consuming contaminated (and undercooked) foods, often meats1,2.

    Some strains of E.coli are also associated with causing urinary tract and kidney infections; interestingly, these strains are not thought to cause infection in the gut of humans. Instead, the gut is believed to act as a reservoir for these bacteria until the opportunity to create infection outside of the gut presents itself3. Food-borne contamination may also contribute to introducing these strains of E.coli into humans3.


    Preventing E.coli Infection

    Typically, antibiotics have been our first line of defense against E.coli infection but with many strains of E.coli becoming resistant to antibiotic treatment1-4, it would seem that prevention is the best defense. Time to fight back with bac(teria)!

    A strong gut microbiome helps you resist the growth of pathogenic bacteria that can cause infection5; a healthy microbiome helps maintain a pH level that deters the growth of pathogenic, or disease causing, bacteria5. It also actively competes with, and attacks, potentially harmful microbes making it hard for them to multiply and cause infection5. If you want a strong microbiome, a daily probiotic will help you get there.

    Evidence also suggests that probiotics may be an effective strategy against E.coli infection4. Short-chain fatty acids produced by probiotic bacteria may help inhibit the growth of harmful E.coli strains, in addition to the competition these beneficial bacteria provide4,5. Probiotic bacteria may also help improve immune response to pathogens while increasing production of substances known as defensins that help kill off harmful microbes4,5. Early research suggests that probiotics may be effective against traveller’s diarrhea while the data is too sparse to know whether probiotics can help us prevent urinary tract infections6,7.

    There is still much more work to be done to understand the role of probiotics in helping us fight off infection – and which probiotics are most effective6,7. However, while we wait for that research, taking a probiotic is a safe way to reinforce your intestinal flora and support your immune system.

    Getting sick from an E.coli infection really does take the fun out of having fun. Your best line of defense? A good offense! Always properly wash your hands after using the restroom and before eating. When cooking meats, be sure to use a thermometer to ensure that they reach temperature. Always properly chill foods during picnics and keep cool foods separate from hot foods. And when you travel, consume only safe water sources and consider eating only fully cooked food when outside of resorts and restaurants with high-quality sanitation. Finally, keep your gut flora strong and healthy with a daily dose of Bio-K+ probiotics.

    Do you have any other questions about gut microbiota? Ask us in comments below. If you are looking to stock up on Bio-K+, head to our store locator. For more information on Bio-K+, probiotics and digestive health, contact us, find us on Facebook and Instagram or join our community



    1. Gomes, Tânia A T et al. “Diarrheagenic Escherichia coli”  Brazilian journal of microbiology : [publication of the Brazilian Society for Microbiology]vol. 47 Suppl 1,Suppl 1 (2016): 3-30.
    2. Tribble, David R. “Resistant pathogens as causes of traveller's diarrhea globally and impact(s) on treatment failure and recommendations”  Journal of travel medicinevol. 24,suppl_1 (2017): S6-S12.
    3. Manges, A. R. "Escherichia coli and urinary tract infections: the role of poultry-meat." Clinical Microbiology and Infection22.2 (2016): 122-129.
    4. Roussel, Charlène, et al. "Foodborne enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli: from gut pathogenesis to new preventive strategies involving probiotics." Future microbiology12.1 (2017): 73-93.
    5. Vogt, Stefanie L and B Brett Finlay. “Gut microbiota-mediated protection against diarrheal infections”  Journal of travel medicinevol. 24,suppl_1 (2017): S39-S43.
    6. McFarland, Lynne V., and Shan Goh. "Are probiotics and prebiotics effective in the prevention of travellers’ diarrhea: A systematic review and meta-analysis." Travel medicine and infectious disease27 (2019): 11-19.
    7. Schwenger, Erin M., Aaron M. Tejani, and Peter S. Loewen. "Probiotics for preventing urinary tract infections in adults and children." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews12 (2015).


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    Desiree Nielsen Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host of the vvegetarian ccooking sshow, The Urban Vegetarian. Desiree takes an evidence-based, integrative approach to her dietetics work, with a focus on anti-inflammatory, plant-centredcentered nutrition and digestive health.
    View all articles by Desiree Nielsen
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