Think, Read, Cook

Because no single way of eating works for everybody.

Lovely Bags of Mostly Microbes


Think this is a human being? Think again.

This child is only one-tenth human, in terms of its cells. And no, it’s not that seeing Star Trek: Into Darkness on the weekend has turned me into an alien-spotting wacko. It’s the new discovery that only one-tenth of the cells in our bodies is human. Not just this child’ cells, but my cells. And yours.

The human body is about 90 percent… microbes.



But for goodness’ sake, put away the hand sanitizer! These microbes are your friends.

Science is only just beginning to discover how this amazing population of microscopic organisms interacts with humans. For it’s becoming clearer and clearer, as you can read in this article by Michael Pollan, that each human being is in fact a community of life forms, rather than a mere individual. And though a few of the community members can be pathogens – microbes that can make a person sick – the vast majority of those 100 trillion entities existing on your skin, in your  mouth, and in your gut will actually benefit you, assist your body’s functions, and protect you from disease.

This isn’t some new thing. We’ve evolved this way over millions of years. Our skin teems with powerful microbes that keep pathogenic bacteria at bay. Our intestines couldn’t digest food without the presences of millions of microbes that break down what we eat. Even our breast milk, once thought to be completely tailored for directly nourishing our babies, contains oligosaccharides – special food digestible only by a certain kind of gut bacteria. Our babies need this bacteria in order to develop properly working digestive systems, so the oligosaccharides do benefit the babies… but indirectly. Our microbial community can effect our weight, our immune systems, our tendency or resistance to allergies. Some microbes in our gut may even affect our stress levels, and our temperament.

The Western diet, high in sterile processed foods and antibiotic-fed meats, together with the Western habit of washing and disinfecting every inch of our skins, has tended to result in a low diversity factor in our microbial communities. And apparently, more diversity generally means better health. Exposure to lots of microbes may prove to be an important factor in wellness; so maybe it’s time to stop being quite so obsessive about germs, eat some natural foods without antibiotics, and get our hands dirty now and then.

Please do read the article – it’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and provides yet one more reason why no single way of eating works for everyone: none of us is a single entity.



10 comments on “Lovely Bags of Mostly Microbes

  1. theflashcook
    May 23, 2013

    You know, if i keep reading your blog I will either become a hypochondriac or just shed my human trappings and ride off into the wild, somewhere, like Canada. 🙂

    • thinkreadcook
      May 23, 2013

      Come on over! We’d love to have you join us on the Toronto tundra, as we trudge from our igloos and ride to work on our dogsleds every day, accompanied by red-coated policemen on horses! 😀

      Loved your recent post; I had no idea you’d lived in East Timor. I’ve heard somewhere that quinoa is now becoming too pricey for South American people to buy, due to high North American demand for it… sigh. Where is the balance in the world? Not that there ever was any, but still!

      • theflashcook
        May 23, 2013

        Well i’d have to do it under the hail of bullets from Chicago’s local gangsters, without the knowledge of our corrupt politicians, while tripping over McDonalds hamburgers and polish sausages.

      • thinkreadcook
        May 23, 2013

        Hey, we have corrupt politicians, too! And really quite a lot of hamburgers. Commonality! 😀

  2. snati001
    May 23, 2013

    Very interesting. Yay for the friendly microbes! 🙂

    • thinkreadcook
      May 23, 2013

      Good thing they outnumber the hostile ones! Go, friendlies! 🙂

    • thinkreadcook
      May 24, 2013

      Makes me feel kind of weird, when I think of the huge populations I’m carrying around. Billions of families, eating, raising their kids, taking university courses, running for parliament, working on the development of space flight…

      Okay, not quite! Still weird, though. 🙂

  3. argentumvulgaris
    May 23, 2013

    You are right. Qinoa (Qechua spelling) has been a staple for 1,000s of years and now has become too expensive for the people of the Andes for exactly the reason you said.

  4. Glutenfreelandia
    July 30, 2013

    My son just read me this factoid last night from National Geographic Kids Weird but true! 3: “Every square inch of your skin hosts about 6 million bacteria.”

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