It’s amazing to think that even within our own body we aren’t the majority shareholder. We are composed of 30 trillion human cells that make up everything from your hair to skin, toenails and organs. But vastly outnumbering them are the 90 trillion of viruses, bacteria and fungi that live within us. Most of these live within the gut area of your body and operate completely independently of you.
They do not obey your body the way your human cells do. They have their own ‘program’ and survival pattern. When you die, your human cells pretty much die straight away as well. Not so these bacteria, some of which begin to eat you from the inside out! It was thought that our human cells were outnumbered by as much a ratio of 10:1 but the Human Microbiome Project reduced this to a ratio of approx. 3:1.
Which means that we are primarily a collection of independent viruses, bacteria and fungi, all which have their own decision making process. All this is fascinating if we think about how when we say ‘I am’ or ‘Who are you’, we often talk about the ‘minority’ element of us, the ‘unified’ consciousness or the voice in our head that we take to be us – and never refer to the vast majority of beings that actually comprise us!
Science now seems to be reaching a consensus on how we interact with all these bacteria although we are only beginning to reach the surface. There are more connections between our gut and our brain than anywhere else in our body – this is the importance our bodies have placed on how we interact with these bacteria. It now appears that when our gut is healthy, we have a much better chance of being happy and balanced people. When our gut bacteria are imbalanced, there is every likelihood that we will suffer depression, anxiety, sadness or any number of disorders. Research is still ongoing into numerous illnesses and our gut such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression, anxiety, our immune system and inflammation. Given the direction that science is going with this research, there is every possibility that ten years from now, when you present to your doctor with depression for example, the pill you’ll be prescribed will actually be a live culture of bacteria designed to boost the bacteria that are imbalanced in your gut. The hard part for science, is figuring out which bacteria within us do what – the sheer number of them are staggering and the unique culture within our gut is different for each person – to the extent that it could be as unique a a fingerprint!
It would seem to me that we are only ‘rediscovering’ that which ancient civilizations already knew but lacked the scientific lingo to describe. Take for example Traditional Chinese Medicine TCM. This has a system of describing organs by what their function is rather than the physical organ itself. In addition, each organ has a number of characteristics ascribed to it that bring its function into a more metaphysical space. For example, anger is related to the Liver, worry to the Stomach, sadness to the Lungs or Large Intestine. A Traditional Chinese Practitioner (e.g. acupuncturist) might treat your Stomach meridian if you present with symptoms that are consistent with overworrying. Helping to overcome grief, the practitioner might treat the Lung or Large Intestine. When you think of the sayings we have to describe emotional states it begins to get that bit clearer – For example, ‘I was sick to the pit of my stomach with worry’ or ‘My heart is full of Joy’ or ‘I’m so sad, I can’t eat’. The Heart in TCM stores the Shen, ( our spirit), hence when we are feeling joyous, we have this warm feeling in the heart area!
In TCM the, what they are essentially doing, is treating an emotional problem via your organs. Many of these organs and meridians either run through, or consist of the organs that are inhabited by all these gut bacteria that science is now saying are essential to our overall health. What the Chinese knew centuries ago – that we are more than just a physical collection of organs and our emotional, mental and physical wellbeing are all tied up together – modern science is only ‘discovering’ now. Talk about playing catch-up.
This is why taking care of our body is one way towards spiritual growth. When we turn our attention to treating our body as something sacred and worth looking after, we are in effect causing an emotion within us that affects our physical and mental wellbeing. Similarly, when we eat ‘good’ foods, these affects our gut health which in turn affects our emotional and mental wellbeing. And thirdly, when we affirm positive messages to ourselves mentally, this sends signals to our gut that all is well and helps produce a physical state of wellbeing and emotional wellbeing.
All three states – our emotional, physical and mental health are so closely linked that it is hard to think we can be well mentally if we are struggling physically. Or that we are ‘healthy’ if we are overcome with sadness. We need to move past the mentality that just because we have a functioning physical body, that we are healthy when we may be falling apart emotionally and mentally and unhappy with the way our life is going.
The good news is that you don’t have to wait ten years to get your hands on a bacterial based pill to affect your gut health. Many foods are packed full of probiotics and bacteria that take up residence in our gut and consuming them are a good way to replenish our gut when we are feeling out of kilter. Some of these foods – Kombucha, kefir, kimchi and saurkraut for example, are easy to make at home. If you re purchasing commercially, make sure they are both unpasteurised and unfiltered as anything other than these means many of the beneficial bacteria have been stripped out of the drink. If it doesn’t say ‘unfiltered’ and ‘unpasteurised’ on the label, it has probably been altered and missing many of the bacteria.