“Enders’s wonder at the strange ways of the gut is matched only by her incredulity at the limited public knowledge on the subject.” —The New York Times
I finally got around to reading up on a topic of that I have been wanting to learn more about – the microbiome. This refers, basically, to all the bugs that live in us – the uncountable numbers that inhabit our intestines. There are more bacteria in one gram of our feces than there are people on the planet. And so far scientists can’t even figure out who all these bacteria are. Our gut appears to have its own brain, and is intimately connected with our immune system. The study of our relationship to these bacteria is in its infancy, but already raise some startling possibilities. For instance, the bacteria we harbour may in fact play a role in obesity, and have major effects on our mood. Future knowledge promises to be fascinating at the very least, and could potentially radically change the way we think of ourselves. (Is it me, or just my bugs?) I think this, and our growing understanding of the brain, are the next two new frontiers in health care.
I am currently reading Gut, selected after a quick browse of bestsellers on the topic on Amazon. The book is written by a delightful young German woman – apparently an MD now doing a PhD on the subject. However I’m not entirely sure of that – from her photos she appears to be about 13, so it’s just possible that she is actually working on her high school science project. In any case she is funny and her writing is accessible, her analogies endearing. She has a great way of making the topic interesting and relevant.
This book would make a good companion to one of my all time favorite books on food – Micheal Pollan’s In Defense of Food. In Gut Guilia talks about common food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance and fructose intolerance, and makes the point that what we call intolerances are perhaps not intolerances at all, but instances of our bodies being taxed to the limits of digestion – we were never really designed to consume dairy products and wheat in such quantities as we do now.
It’s all rather inspiring. Our intestines are doing amazing things right under our noses, and yet we really know nothing about it.