“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he has attained liberation from the self”
– Albert Einstein
For years, the view of self has been restricted to our own human, eukaryotic cells, but recent research into the microbes that live in and on our bodies is dramatically changing this perspective. Findings from The Human Microbiome Project (2008-2013) have made it clear that 90% of the cells in the human body are microbial and that the genetic repertoire of these microbes is at least 150 times greater than that of our human cells (1,2,3).
The fact that we are more microbe than man naturally has a significant impact on how we view human health, and research shows that the human microbiome – the aggregate of microorganisms living in and on the human body – could play a role in all sorts of different diseases and health ailments. Humans are very similar in terms of our human genome, but the microbial genome can be very different from one person to another. We also know that the microbiome can be altered fairly rapidly and that we therefore have the ability to manipulate our genome to an extent never previously thought possible.
The fact that the microbiome is fairly sensitive to external input is also the reason why it has such an important role in health and disease. In a perfectly healthy individual, there’s a symbiotic relationship between the human host and the microbiome. We provide the bacterial communities with shelter and food, the microbiome provides us with metabolic functions that stretch far beyond the physiological capabilities of the human host, and everyone’s healthy and happy.
However, antibiotics, western diets, and other factors associated with life in the modern world can perturb the microbiome and promote a state of dysbiosis. The balance between “good” and “bad” microbes in our body is now altered, and since we know that around 70% of our immune system is located in and around the gastrointestinal tract and that the bacteria in our gut profoundly shape our immunity, this dysbiotic state has a significant impact on our overall health (4,5). While researchers are still discovering new secrets of the microbiome, it’s already clear that dysbiosis plays a role in a lot of the chronic diseases and health disorders we see in the industrialized world, such as acne, colorectal cancer, diabetes, and irritable bowel syndrome (6,7,8,9).
One topic that is often of special interest to those in the health and fitness community is weight loss. People try different “scientifically proven” diets and exercise regimes in the quest for a lean and healthy physique, but we’re now learning that a huge blind spot in the health and fitness community is the trillions of bugs that inhabit the human body and how they play an essential role in regulating host energy homeostasis.