Gut Democracy

Someone once told me, “99% of lawyers give the rest a bad name.”

To which I replied, “1% of doctors give the rest a good name.”

Come to think of it, though, I don’t know ANY evil lawyers personally, and only a handful of doctors so bad, I wouldn’t entrust them with my pet cockroach. So those stats seem somewhat fake.

However, I want to talk about … microbes. Again.

You could say that 1% of microbes give the rest a bad rap. Because of a few rogue bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc, we sterilise our entire environment.

Actually, the figure of rogue microbes is probably closer to 0.00001% of all microbes. And here’s the thing: even the rogue microbes mostly have important roles to play in the microbe ecosystem. They’re “bad” for us in the sense that they harm us if present in the wrong amounts or in the wrong places (or hanging out with the wrong crowd).

If you’re undergoing surgery, you want sterility. Bugs not welcome. That is perfectly rational.

But if you apply that same logic to life outside of the surgical theatre, you don’t get fewer rogue microbes, you get more.

How come?

Microbes are made to live in symbiosis with each other. In other words, “I help you and you help me” (for some or other reason, thoughts of Purple Dinosaurs occur to me). “Our” microbes are very much dependent on a symbiotic, happy co-existence with US. The diversity of microbe classes, families, genuses, species and subtypes is bewildering.

It keeps me humble to realise that there are a thousand times more microbes living in me than there are stars in our Milky Way. We are still struggling to classify them, never mind to understand the complex web of relations between them. All I know for certain is that this is no accident. We were made for each other.

In other words, if my microbiome is destabilised, I will suffer. Balance is critical.

This means there are rules.

Here are some of them:

  1. Microbes are welcome on every human surface – skin, cavities, hair and alimentary canal.
  2. Humans will provide adequate microbe clothing and housing.
  3. Microbes are not welcome inside the body. Period.
  4. Humans will ingest food that microbes need.
  5. Microbes will produce substances that humans need.

Now, not all microbes play by the rules. This causes problems.

Humans also break the rules. This causes problems, too.

Here’s a further miracle of the microbiome: No two of us share the same balance of microbes, or even the same species. Your microbiome is as uniques as your fingerprint. Unlike your fingerprint, however, your microbiome changes day by day. It is extremely fluid (no pun intended) but still remains uniquely YOU. That’s almost magical, I believe.

Far, far more aspects of our health and wellness depend on our microbes than we ever thought. Even metabolic diseases like diabetes are now being traced back to microbial imbalances. It isn’t always easy to know how much is CAUSE and how much is EFFECT, but we are learning fast.

On the topic of uniqueness, this recent BBC article may tickle you. The author, a doctor herself, discovers some surprising facts about the gut and her diet. And how people do not respond to the same diet in the same way. The researchers are trying to find “diet groups” and I wish them well in their search. Personally, I think there are simpler ways to do this than to send stool samples halfway around the world. But each to his own and bless the lab assistants.

Have a great TINY day! And be grateful that the vast majority of microbes vote for us.