Dining Out For 100 Trillion (1/2/13)
An Important Six Pounds of You
They don’t vote, but they sure make their voices heard. They are legion, but small. They change most aspects of your daily life. But you hardly notice them, rarely show respect, and virtually never give them deserved credit.
As a minority group that lives within your extraordinarily diverse ecosystem, they are grossly neglected and underserved.
It’s time for you to think about your six pounds of gut bacteria. And more importantly, what they want.
You don’t know, do you?
If you want to progress in this life, it’s time to listen to your 100 trillion gut bacteria, and to try see life from their perspective.
After all, you can’t live without them.
What They Do For You (A Rather Abbreviated List)
1. Process your vitamins – and make a bunch more you need
2. Find and reconfigure your ingested fats
3. Discover and make proteins – lots of proteins – you can’t live without
4. Snaffle starches
5. Reduce and mash up pollutants and toxins
6. Destroy invading pathogens – including smarmy viruses and freeloading mycoplasma
7. Change your risk of gastric ulcers; ulcerative colitis; multiple sclerosis; autism and other diseases
8. In mice at least, decrease stress responses and depression
9. Reset your immune system (a very big deal – and very unappreciated)
10. Reprocess the effluvium of your life into forms you can live with that serve the greater global ecosystem.
They do this all for you and more. And do you show gratitude? Express Thanksgiving? Care when you take antibiotics for a urinary infection and wipe out great swaths of friends?
It’s time you start thinking of bacterial desire.
What They Want
It is difficult for humans to think like a bacterium – let alone 100 trillion of them. We have a very hard time figuring out what we want, let alone the other seven billion very unique individual personalities inhabiting what we call “our” planet.
And bacteria are much older than we are – hundreds of millions of years older. They’ve seen so much more than we have. They exist under the arctic ice and survive in places without oxygen or light – for thousands of years. Some groups may have lived in the same small lumps of clay for millions of years – immortality by our way of thinking.
They make up the majority of biomass on the planet. They have been living with, on, and through us from before the primate ancestors we acknowledge as our forebears – except for a few creationists, that is. They share – and have probably donated to us – a large part of our biological machinery that powers us and keeps us alive. They rank between them millions and millions of genes meandering through small bowel and colon – compared to our measly 22,000 protein coding genes.
It is difficult to deal with a biological force much mightier and weightier than we.
Yet we can glean some clues from the kinds of diseases that sometimes afflict us what causes our gut bacteria to become unruly, revolt, and fully rebel. And these are some of the things they tell us:
1. They like food variety. When you have 100 trillion consumers, variety is not just the spice of life – it’s the necessity of life. More variety of food means lots more stuff to work with – and better chances at bacterial survival. And what one species does not want may be the favorite foodstock of the species a millimeter next door.
2. They like roughage and fiber. What’s “hard work” for our colon is simply added foodstuffs and informational opportunities for our never vacationing bacteria.
3. They like predictability. Our visiting places with different foods brings on differing bacterial populations that invade and attempt to conquer, leading to multi-level warfare and frequent dollops of diarrhea. When all the fighting is over, though, our large general population may then become enriched, varied, and more productive – as often happens with immigration.
4. They like whole foods. Processing foods into “prepared meals” not only brings on all kinds of potentially toxic chemicals that can kill and maim them, but cuts out a lot of their work. Bacteria are industrious, and thrive on activity and opportunity.
5. They don’t enjoy sugar that much. Yes, there are subpopulations that can turn our many ingested forms of highly processed sugar into energy and gas. But most bacteria desire more varied, natural, complex foods to dig into. Just eating sugar cuts out all the fun – and denies them a lot of what they need.
So the next time you’re in a restaurant think about the non-voting citizens that are a part of you. There are viruses and rickettsia, prions and mycoplasma, fungi and spores galore.
But consider first of all those bacteria that keep you whole. They digest your food. They give you vitamins and minerals. They remake your immunity, cutting the risk of some of the nastiest diseases known to people. They keep away innumerable interlopers that can kill you.
And if you look at what they like to eat – whole foods, lots of vegetables and leaves, all sorts of great nutritional variety – you’ll discover something important – what they like is also good for you. For your health, happiness, and survival.
Because bacteria want you to survive. They really do. We need them, but they also need us.
And don’t be surprised when a few years from now you learn that your bacteria are helping to tell your brain what foods you “think” you like to eat – just as they affect mood, immunity, and much of your unconscious biological functions.
It’s a much better deal if you give them what they want right now.
A better deal for all of us.
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