One Percent Human, Ninety Nine Percent Alien!
Earth, Land, and Sea….
It’s hard to believe that we are living among a sea of bacteria and probably many more kinds of viruses. The amount of bacteria in the world is estimated to be more than all the animals, and plants, combined. One milliliter (cc) of fresh water may contain more than a million bacteria. We are not only surrounded by bacteria and viruses, but they also live within us; we are a part of each other. Nowhere in the body it is more important than our gastrointestinal tract. As a patient centric gastroenterologist, naturally, I am intensely interested as to how we interact with these life forms and what role they play in the health and diseases of humans, especially how it relates to intestinal diseases.
Bacteria living in our gastrointestinal tract exceed 10 times the amount of our own human cells. Even more than bacteria, viruses exceed that amount by 10 times more. That leaves us with representing only 1% of our own genome and 99% alien genomes in our body; a body we call ours! Our stool, or fecal material that we extrude with varying frequency depending on the individual habits, is estimated to be 40-50% bacterial mass! It is estimated that over 500 types of bacteria are living in our gut and they are pulling on as much of our weight as much we are pulling on theirs.
These alien organisms including viruses, parasites and humans, have evolved together for eons and are mutually beneficial to each other. We are so dependent on each other that some Short Chain Fatty Acids, which can generate up to ten to fifteen percent of our energy, is given to us by these bacteria by working on certain carbohydrates. Without their help we are not capable of producing it by ourselves. In addition, some of these bacteria convert other indigestible products to human consumable sugars. They synthesize Vitamin B and Vitamin K for our body. With this knowledge still in the infancy stages of exploration, daily we find out more and more how we coexist with bacteria and viruses. Who knows what else they are doing for us?
It’s all a balancing act…
A concept well emphasized in both medical and lay literatures is proper balance of bacteria in terms of their total number and population diversity combined with other microbiological organisms. Its importance is growing as our understanding keeps on increasing in this field. Lack of proper bacterial population and balance has been attributed to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), immune dysfunction, leaky gut, development of Colitis, Crohn’s disease, mental status change and even asthma. Concern of bacterial imbalance induced by antibiotics is well borne out by development of Clostridium difficile colitis which kills quite a few people every year in our country and worldwide. The fact that one can reverse this fatal disease by instilling stool from healthy people is just more living evidence that proper types of bacteria can save us.
In Sickness and In Health……
Conversely, these bacteria, and other living organisms, get their shelter and nutrition in our body and we supply many of their nutrition needs. This is also well proven that some of them are predominant in certain species and are also unique to certain mammalians. This is a perfect happy couple relationship; we need each other for our health and well being. Bacteria, viruses, parasites and all other living things, along with humans have grown and evolved together. We have been there for each other in good days and bad days. We depend on one as much we depend on the other. Next time, you see or imagine of a microorganism, give it a loving hug, and try not to eliminate it from the earth with toxic sprays and fumes.
And knowing is half the battle…..
Our knowledge is rapidly evolving and the more we know, the more we are awed with the intricacies of our mutual relationship. As we peek into the science of this amazing inter-dependence, this is also a wonderful opportunity for us to use this knowledge in understanding and later preventing and curing many diseases. This will be a great way to treat, in a natural way, using our bacteria and virus friends whom we have vilified as only enemies in the past. As a gastroenterologist, I am elated about the fact that our gut, or gastrointestinal tract, will be one of the main areas of application of this new knowledge to improve our health. Thanks to our guts for being a safe home to all these bacteria, virus, parasites and other microorganisms who are serving us 24/7/365.
Stay tuned friends; we will continue to serve you with the latest knowledge and developments on this and other medical news!
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This blog is authored By Dr. Nizam Meah, M.D, no reproduction is allowed without prior permission. ©Copyright 2014 The GI Center. All Rights Reserved. Do not copy without express permission.