Do you ever have the feeling that you’re not alone? I mean, like you are not alone in your body. …Like it’s not just you in there. Wait– don’t click away! I’m not proposing any alien conspiracy theories… I’m telling you that you are literally only 10% yourself.
Let’s do that math. Your body is made up of 70 trillion cells but inside and on your body you have 700 trillion bacterial cells… 70 trillion is 10% of 700 trillion… so are you?… could you be?… is it true that you’re only 10% human? Yup.
You, my friend, are a walking talking Bed and Breakfast for bacteria, yeast, fungi, parasites and viruses.
NO! Don’t reach for the Purell! Put that crap down! You don’t want to kill these guys… You want these symbiotic creatures because you would be a goner without them!!! When on board, beneficial microbes do their best to ensure our health. But when we don’t have the good guys, both opportunistic microbes and health problems bloom.
Guess what: the dry weight of a turd is 80% microbial bodies and 20% fiber and undigested stuff. Thank goodness we’ve got a lot of microbes in us because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be able to poop!
Where did these microbes come from? Our first dose came from Mom’s vaginal canal and some fecal matter that got mixed up in the whole experience (Oh, grow up guys.) Our later doses came from her skin, breast milk, household pets, farm animals and all the toys we chewed on and square feet of the floor that we licked with gusto.
At age two, this “microbial community” becomes our “Microbiome.” This shift is more than just syntax. It’s a status change bestowed by the immune system. And, it is pretty much exactly like when the Queen knights someone: an extraordinary person gains a new name (Sir or Dame), as well as a new air about them. At age two, the immune system views the Microbiome as a valid presence that it will not attack. These microbes are considered to be part of Self, like your liver, but dispersed throughout your body. (Though, just like Sir Patrick Stewart, these beneficial organisms are blindingly glorious regardless of nomenclature.)
That said, scientists, authors and practitioners sometimes make stuff up (ex. “drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water per day” is hogwash). So, after age two, it’s possible that other microbes gain a permanent safe harbor in our body’s ecosystem. But, as evidenced by the concept of an infection, the body will not allow just any microbe to acquire significant real estate.
As life goes on, we get many of our microbes from the surfaces of our fruits and vegetables. Where do they come from? From the air and soil. What happens when you eat foods from different regions and countries? You introduce different varieties of microbes into your body. Is that bad? I honestly don’t know. But for a lot of other reasons, eating locally is a great idea.
What do our beneficial microbes to for us? Well. How much time do you have? They do a lot:
- Assist in digestion by breaking food apart (imagine lego structures being disassembled)
- Synthesize nutrients (B vitamins & vitamin K)
- Modulate our immune system (80% of our immune system is in the tissue surrounding our intestines and that’s where most microbes live)
- Provide a barrier between the outside world and our juicy insides. (The space inside your “Food Tube” (mouth to anus) is still the outside of your body. Gross, yes, but crucial to your health. Beneficial microbes are on the front lines where they: physically crowd out harmful microbes, change the pH of the environment so that harmful microbes cannot survive, produce fatty acids that nourish and fortify your intestinal cells & help your body’s immune cells prepare by telling them what’s up with current events.)
- Modulate gene expression. Genes are only accessed if the environment is right. If a “bad” gene happens to be in your DNA, it doesn’t matter unless the environment is right for it to be expressed. Beneficial microbes are one of many environmental variables that encourage potentially harmful genes to remain unused.
- Support mental health (Ex. Some serotonin is produced by our brains, where it’s used to promote serenity, but most is made in our guts, where it triggers peristalsis to push food and waste through our system. Probiotics maintain healthy intestinal tissue to make all this possible.)
- Help us poop (the dry weight of a turd is 80% microbial bodies and 20% fiber and undigested stuff)
- Much, much more.
Sorry to say but if you were born via C-section, were fed formula, had a super clean house with no pets, were bathed in Purell and ate only processed foods, you’re at a major disadvantage and might want to go buy and mainline a few bottles of excellent probiotics ASAP. And, if you have a nagging or serious health issue, you might even consider a fecal transplant!
This is why you are not alone, and why that body you’re walking around in is a mere 10% human. You host a thriving community of vivacious organisms who want nothing but for you to survive, because if you falter, where will they live and what will they eat? Next time you have a quiet moment, you might consider closing your eyes and saying hi to them all. Yes, I admit that I’m a little crazy to suggest that you talk to 700 trillion microbes with your mind. But, they are talking about you and to you all the time. When bacteria reach a certain number, they begin to communicate. It’s called Quorum Sensing and is discussed in this fascinating, easily-digestible TED Talk by Bonnie Bassler. Why not talk back?
If some of your crew is misbehaving (dysbiosis, overgrowth of candida, constipation, diarrhea, food sensitivities, skin problems), come see me. We’ll all sit down and have a talk. There might be some resistance when you go about evicting any opportunistic guests. Candida, for example, can produce chemicals that are similar to your own body’s signals that urge you to eat more carbs, or feel sad and slow. But we’ll talk about ways to make the transition easier. Breakups are always tough and this type is no exception.
There are many things you can do to support your Microbiome, but the first and most important is to feed them right. These microbes are all about fiber, fiber, fiber. (In supplement speak, this fiber is called “prebiotics.”) Green leafies & root veggies are the favorites of the microbes you want around. Whole grains also provide the fiber that they like, though grains are inflammatory for many humans even when they’re soaked. If someone is on a high-protein, low-carb diet and feels cruddy over time, it might be because they’re not eating enough carbs to fuel their Microbiome.
Refined flour and sugar are the favorite foods of microbes that are harmful in high numbers– to be clear, these microbes are not bad unless their populations surge. And, get this: many bacteria can replicate in 20 minutes!! So, here’s a disturbing thought: you eat bread, the bad buggers feast and in 20 minutes after that bread hits your colon, you have twice as many buggers as before! Eventually it looks like a frat house down there. If this image encourages you to cut out some bread/pasta/flour-products, that’s a great experiment to try! But, remember you’ll be removing food from ravenous microbes… they will complain… and they can make you feel like you’re craving bread. You’re not. They are! Also, very importantly: In order to keep on taking the bears to the woods, you’ll want to eat fiber from green leafy veggies.