I have a theory. It’s not a scientific theory. It’s certainly not something you would hear Doc Haley prescribing to a patient – but it’s a theory, and it’s my own. Chances are, it has no scientific validity whatsoever – yet it is a way of thinking about gut flora that helps me and my family make better food choices.
Call it a paradigm, if you will.
A brief glimpse at biological reality
Most of us can’t stand to think of this for long – it can be absolutely frightening if the implications are carried out too far.
About 95% of the cells in your body are not you … they are microbes. Trillions of “bugs” live inside you; most are in your intestinal tract. If you counted one second for every microorganism in your body, you would be counting for more than 3 million years. I can’t begin to fathom a number that large. And you can’t either.
Most of these tiny life forms are bacteria, however Archaeans (a recently defined domain) and Eukaryotes (e.g. candida albicans) are also represented. These organisms are commonly referred to as “gut flora,” and are of increasing concern and interest to those who work in science and medicine.
You are what you eat: It’s a true statement
You eat; you live. You don’t; you die. That seems to be a principle of life. Even the plants that get their fuel by way of photosynthesis obey this rule: They eat sunlight.
Human beings convert food into life energy. Just as with your automobile, though, some foods (fuels) burn cleaner and provide more energy than others.
Here’s the central point behind the paradigm I am about to describe: When you eat, you are not only feeding your body; you are feeding the trillions of microorganisms as well – and, just like people, some prefer different foods than others.
In the case of your gut flora, though, we’re talking about feeding many different species – even separate domains. A food that supports one microbe may destroy another.
It’s a fascinating story … one hotly pursued in research laboratories today.
This is where we depart from science
My two sons and I were making smoothies one evening, when the oldest asked, “Dad, why is it we crave the stuff that’s bad for us and hate the foods that are good for us?”
How would you answer that question?
Is it taste? Do junk foods really taste way better than natural foods?
Is it marketing? Are we so taken in by advertising that we really believe we’re better off with a microwave pizza and a beer than an organic fruit salad and spring water?
Why do we do what we shouldn’t do and fail to do what we should? That has been the philosopher’s dilemma for ages – it applies to matters of both the mind and the body.
So … why do we choose so poorly so often?
Then I remembered the gut flora.
“Listen, son,” I began cautiously as the idea began to take form. “Do you remember the story I was telling you last week about Dr. Haley’s work with gut flora?”
“Sure, Dad. Good bugs and bad bugs … right?”
“That’s right, son. In a way, the microbes think they are in control – that we are nothing more than a nice warm breeding and feeding ground for them. When you want a donut or a bowl of ice cream, do you know what’s really going on?”
He squinched his nose a bit, trying to think where I might be headed, and his little brother did the same … “No, Dad, what IS going on?”
“Son, that craving you get is just those bad bugs screaming to be fed – and you know what’s more?”
He waited expectantly, knowing this was going to be one of those “Dad’s got his hippie on again” moments.
I took the pitcher off the Vitamix and began pouring him a drink.
“When you are drinking something healthy, like these smoothies, and those bugs start hollering so loud you can’t stand it … you know what’s happening then?”
“What, Dad, what!” he was ready for me to land that airbus and taxi on up to the terminal.
“Son .. it’s those bad bugs crying – and they are crying because they are dying. If you can hold off long enough to get your gut flora turned around, and start hearing the good guys speak … they will be wanting kale and carrots, not candy and Coke … do you see what I mean, son?”
“Crying because they’re dying, I like that, Dad. You’re a poet.”
And that little talk got us beyond a craving point – a critical juncture where we could have headed to the hot dog stand down the street, but chose to stick it out and eat for health, not for pleasure.
Why should you care about gut flora, eating right, and getting past the craving?
Because nothing, nothing, nothing is more important than your health and your family’s health.
We own a Vitamix because we believe it helps us get more of the nutrients we need. And we invest in prebiotic and probiotic foods in order to help bring and keep balance in the place where health is won or lost – the intestinal tract … the gut.
Would you save $500, if you knew it meant the difference between health and disease? I’m not being too facetious here. Observe what goes on at the supermarket. People buy based on price, more than on quality. The pesticide-laden strawberries cost less per pound than the organic berries.
Care to guess which gets scooped up and placed in the cart more often?
That is why the organic section (if you can find it) is so small, compared to the rest of the store. If folks bought good food and shunned the bad, we would have good food at the store (and at a reasonable price). You can bank on it.
We can blame the sad state of the supermarket and the stench at the feedlots on agribusiness all we want. But the truth is that without our dollars eagerly shelled out to buy what they produce … the food giants and pesticide manufacturers couldn’t remain in business. When consumers finally figure that out, things will surely change.
Where can you find help to get your priorities straight?
Don’t stop learning, folks. If you have questions, ask Dr. Haley. He knows what he is talking about, and he is always willing to help someone get back on track.
After all, if you don’t look after your own health, who will? I can tell you who won’t: the microorganisms that feed off white sugar and white flour are going to scream their little invisible heads off, telling you they need fed and they need fed NOW.
Just remember this: They are crying because they are dying.
Let them die.
And … lest you think the story I told my boys is too far fetched – consider this article from WUSF Public Media: Gut Bacteria Might Guide the Workings of Our Minds.