We have known for a long time that our bodies are host to other organisms. But are we aware of the extent to which these foreigners influence our health and wellness? A recent New York Times article describes the “American Gut Project,” a giant undertaking aimed at sequencing the microbes within human beings and shedding light on their important health influences.
The author relates that while the medical community has been battling microbiota they have never spent much time trying to understand its overall role. Until now, it has been assumed that DNA is the prime determinant of one’s health. But the Human Gut Project is attempting to turn that over. For the first time, scientists are focusing on human flora in an unbiased manner, and are bold enough to ask the question: are outside forces responsible for our flaws? Have we ourselves let them in?
Some points from the article:
The body’s microbes outnumber human cells ten to one
More than 99% of the genetic material in your body is microbial
Your health may be influenced more by foreign microbes than by your inherited genetic materia
You may be able to “reshape, even cultivate, the bacteria in your body,” thereby influencing your health. Your inherited genes, on the other hand, remain fixed
The human digestive system is interesting in that, unlike other systems, it is not sterile. We take outside food and internalize it. The energy from that food becomes part of us. The waste passes through and is excreted. The problem is, once that food goes down the hatch, there is little to be done to stop peristalsis. If the food is bad, you will soon know it. And much of the bad influences remain to haunt us.
The Human Gut Project teaches us that the situation is not entirely bleak. We have the choice as to what enters our digestive tract. We can even make positive decisions which will benefit our health. The good news is that we need not only fight bacteria, but can harness it for its intrinsic goodness.
This article made me think about “nature vs. nurture”, the classic question about whether our behaviors are born to us or obtained through experience. The Human Gut Project puts most of the blame on us. It acknowledges that our inherited genes are responsible for some of our ailments, but not for all. We can no longer blame our parents for everything.
Our world is bustling with activity, more than ever before. We are constantly bombarded with commercials, news, photos, and videos, all in real time. Of the information that bombards us, we have the choice as to what is acceptable or not. And of that which we deem acceptable, let us make sure that it has a positive affect.
This is perhaps the biggest lesson from the human gut project: By evaluating and being more selective with what we expose ourselves to, we have the ability to reshape our lives.