If we are to have any chance at adapting and staying healthy in the toxic world that we’ve inherited and continue to create, we need to use the one thing that can adapt faster and more efficiently than we can, the human microbiome.
Bacteria, yeast, fungi, and all other microbes have been in existence on this planet far longer than humans. They have evolved and developed amazing abilities to adapt to extreme conditions of ice and heat, toxic chemicals, radiation, and the amazing abilities of each other. Their ability to adapt and survive was illustrated in 2012, when Georgia Tech was able to revive 500-million-year-old bacterial DNA. Humans, on the other hand, are embarrassing slugs on the evolutionary scale. Our adaptation rate is so slow, if it weren’t for the microbes protecting us, neither of us would exist at this point.
The human microbiome consists of over 10,000 species of microbes (bacteria, yeasts, parasites, etc) with a total population of over 100 trillion in and on the body. Human cells are a meager 10 trillion cells in comparison. This microbiome encases us in a protective biological bubble that ensures the ongoing survival of the human species. This microbial bubble is responsible for helping to digest foods, synthesize vitamins and nutrients, regulate immune system function, transform chemicals and heavy metals, protect us from radiation, influence brain function and growth, sustain pregnancies, and so forth. Our microbial friends are more nursemaid and teacher than anything else. These microbes have also been shown to influence the makeup and function of our DNA, leading some researchers to state that, “Perhaps the genes supplied by our microbes are part of what make us human.”
We are so interconnected with them that their health equals our health. The greater the degree of microbial diversity, the greater our state of health. Destroying that diversity through antibiotic use in humans and unchecked usage in animals has a devastating impact on health. Each antibiotic pill reduces diversity and increases the numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance is now considered to be one of the top three threats to human health on the planet. Obviously, every other life form on the planet isn’t represented in that statistic, but equally affected. Each new antibiotic that we roll out leads to newly-resistant organisms. Researcher Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello states that humans have lost one-third of their microbial diversity. Altering and eliminating that bubble leaves us much more susceptible to the hostile environment that we’ve been busy creating on this planet.
What we currently know about the toxins in the environment is still in its infancy. Consider Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH). We already knew that they caused liver and kidney damage; cataracts; immunosuppression; asthma; lung, breast, skin, colon, and bladder cancers, but then we fond out that when they interact with nitrogen, as they commonly do in the environment, the effects are over 400 times worse. What’s 400 times worse than cancer?
There are over 140,000 registered chemicals entering the environment every year, and less than 1,000 have been tested for their effect on humans. The total number of chemicals registered through the Chemical Abstract Agency surpassed 50 million in 2009. Babies are being born with hundreds if not thousands of chemicals in their body. As researchers Stephen Rauch and Bruce Lanphear pointed out, “Pound for pound, they eat and breathe more environmental contaminants than adults.”
There are over 4,000 chemicals used in processed foods and over 2,000 in tap water. Up to 60-70 percent of the waterways are contaminated with toxins. No one escapes the toxic burden that goes with living on this planet. You can eat organic and drink filtered water all day long, and you’ll still be affected as long as you’re breathing.
Radiation is a part of the daily background of life, as well. Even as we face the effects of Fukushima, we are still experiencing radiation residues from atomic bomb testing in the 1940s, Three Mile Island in 1979, and Chernobyl in 1986. The long tail effect of the radiation disasters will be with us for decades to come.
The complexity of addressing the numerous exposures and effects multiplied by the number of days we spend on this planet is enormous. It is beyond man’s capacity. Obesity, diabetes, and practically every other known disease is on the rise. We are living longer, but not healthier.
We need the help of a superhero. We need something that can respond instantly to the daily onslaught. We need the microbiome.
Supporting the one thing that constantly supports us is the answer. Through a whole foods diet and managing our exposures, we might just have a chance.