I lie in bed and worry. Am I doing as much as I can for them? How has my husband influenced them? Who has joined them today? They only have life spans of twenty minutes or so and keeping tabs on them is a never ending battle. For the past two months, I have even gone on a special diet hoping to improve the chances that the good ones will increase and the bad ones will dwindle. Unfortunately, science is still only learning which bacteria are the best to have in one’s gut. For now, it might be the best policy to foster diversity.
When I first read that obese people have a higher ratio of Firmicutes and Bacterioidetes (classifications of bacteria) in their digestive tract than thinner people, I finally felt vindicated. Now when people smugly tell me that weight gain is simply “calories in and calories out and I must be eating too many calories if I am not losing weight”, I calmly reply, “The Firmicutes phyla of bacteria that convert calories more efficiently into fat. I must have way too many! Don’t you realize my bacteria are sabotaging my efforts? I am not in denial about my calorie intake; I really do have a slow metabolism!”
I started my quest to rid myself of any Firmicutes lounging in my colon. I tried to learn more about the kind of bacteria that I would need to ingest to be a thin healthy person (so far I can only tell you that Lactobacillus Gasseri is one strain that is linked with thin people)* Lots of research shows that a diet high in fruits and vegetables may change the composition of our gut flora-or a composition that might be found in thinner people- but not much is understood about permanent changes to this composition. We acquire a signature bacterial mix early in life which continues to evolve and though we may change the mix through things such as antibiotic use, we also may revert back to the old one just as quickly. Two months ago, I also learned that my Diet Coke addiction was wreaking serious havoc on my balance of Firmicutes and Bacterioidetes.For the first time, I was able to see every 20 oz bottle of non-caloric, sweet, fizzy, comfort for the poison that it was.
Getting in touch with my inner bacteria is new for me. I have always had a scorched earth policy when it came to microbes. When my teen-aged daughter worked in a lab over the summers experimenting with E. coli, it took all the willpower that I had not to douse her with Lysol every time she walked into the house exclaiming that she could not get the smell of E. coli out of her nose.
We are only just learning how bacteria play a starring roll in helping our bodies adapt to the world around us. Only this week, I read an article that said that new research has shown that the antioxidants in dark chocolate only work because the microbes in our gut ferment the chemicals thereby making them accessible to the human body. Martin Blaser M.D. writes,” without microbes, we could not eat or breathe. Without us, nearly all microbes would do just fine….bacterial cells substantially out number you own human cells. Seventy to ninety percent of all of the cells in you body are nonhuman.”** So what is the optimal composition of bacteria for me?
The easiest way to do this (given how little we know) might be to find a skinny person and do a homemade fecal transplant (For those of you interested in the digestive process, I recommend Mary Roach’s book,Gulp. She has a whole chapter on this procedure.) A fecal transplant could establish whole colonies of skinny person’s bacteria but I could also find myself with a case of something worse than a little excess weight. I recently took a Harvard Business School edX class called, Innovations in Healthcare Technology, I shyly suggested to my classmates that a “weight loss oriented fecal do it your self kit” might be a money-maker but the students were much more interested in saving lives. I may consider doing this on my own. I have just given to the American Gut Project and for a $99 contribution; I will get a kit that I can send for a stool analysis.-which is a good start. Meanwhile I will be ever alert to not becoming that Fletcher disciple who is obsessed with his/her digestive system (and if you read any of the internet forums on digestive disorders, you will find many).
*Lactobacillus Gasseri …(as per The Microbiome Diet by Raphael Kellman, MD).
** From Missing Microbes by Martin J Blaser M.D.
also published on Open Salon under Snarkychaser