Friday, July 18, 2014

90% Not Human

I am reading a little Kindle book, Honor Thy Symbionts by Jeff Leach. The subtitle is "a collection of short essays about health, life and the co-evolution of humans and our microbes." On the title page it also says, "two organisms that combine and live together for mutual benefit are called symbiont." Good to know!

I've read other things about the human microbiome, but these essays are very clear, eye-opening, and even a little bit scary. It's like, everything you know is wrong, starting with "bacteria are bad" - okay, bacteria can be bad, but bacteria are also primary contributors to the vast ecosystem of human and nonhuman cells that make up our bodies. With modern food, antibiotics, and hygiene, it seems we have declared all-out war on these non-human parts of our bodies ignoring the fact that they have co-evolved with our human parts over hundreds of thousands of years or longer.

Reading these essays, I feel that in a few years people will look back on our recent "modern" medicine the way we look at 18th century doctors who used leeches and other methods to drain blood from sick people. It must've made sense to them at the time. But it was based on a complete misunderstanding of the way the human body works. Modern doctors are certainly better educated and have achieved better results, but their methods are based on a very incomplete understanding of our bodies as ecosystems.

Of course there have been great benefits from antibiotics and other modern medical technologies. It's a testament to the power and resilience of evolution that we manage to be as healthy as many of us are, despite the side effects of these brute force techniques. It's like clearcutting a rain forest to wipe out a few troublesome termites. Or to grow some more corn. Oh yeah, we do that too.

I haven't finished reading this yet, and I'm not sure if I'm going to change my diet or opinions on things like GMO's. Too soon to tell. But things sure are a lot more complicated than I thought.