In our last post, we concluded that when soil is healthy, plants and microbes dwell in symbiosis which produces high concentrations of the nutrients both need to thrive. Well, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the same relationship exists between people and the microbes that live in our digestive tract.
Ironically, however, the human species seems hell-bent on destroying those microbes, or at least reducing their numbers. One fundamental law of nature is that biodiversity is good, but modern culture seems to be at war with biodiversity. Most industrial agriculture functions on the principle of anti-diversity: single crops grown from genetically homogenous seed in soil rendered sterile by industrial grade antibiotics. And industrial medicine seems to work on the cleanliness principle as well: in 2016, the number of antibiotic prescriptions written in America corresponded to five out of ever six people in the country, and nearly a third of those were demonstrably unnecessary. We believe that cleaner is better, even though that may not be true.
It’s becoming clear that fighting bacteria is both futile and wrong-headed. It’s futile because within any given person, non-human cells out-number human cells by a factor of 1.3, and the number of non-human species living within a single person is comparable to the number of individual people living in one large city. And it’s wrong-headed for the same reason it would be crazy for a city to attack its own population. Sure: some people in town are deadbeats who pee in the pool and shoplift candy bars, but that doesn’t mean you fumigate the village with mustard gas.
We’re learning, for example, that some nutrients that play crucial roles in human health are produced only by the non-human species living in our gut, including three amino acids required to make the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. What’s more, many of those species appear to communicate with our human cells in ways that tell our DNA what kinds of proteins to manufacture. So in a real sense, the bacteria we’re fighting actually makes us who we are.
As Dr. Zack Bush says, we should stop thinking of bacteria as invaders and realize that this space is more theirs than ours. We should thank them for letting us stay.
One way to encourage that thought shift is to deliberately cultivate the growth of bacteria in our bodies, especially our digestive tracts, which do far more than process food. In our next post we’ll talk about things we’re doing on the farm to help bacteria grow inside us.