The Price of Convenience

See, this is why I buy into a holistic version of life. This month’s Scientific American has an article about intestinal microbes, Gut Reactions by Claudia Wallis.

Go ahead and read it if you’re interested. It’s not very long. The gist of the article  is that the types and diversity of microbes that populate our guts have a direct effect on how we store fat and gain weight. The oh-we’re-so-surprised! (sarcasm alert) finding is how we end up with either a healthy mix of microbes, or one that piles on the pounds.

How we are born (vaginally vs. c-section), whether or not we were breastfed, and what we eat (refined, processed food vs. Real Food), are all directly related to the types and variety of microbes we have.

And by golly, if you were born vaginally, breastfed for six months or longer, and eat a varied diet of mostly plants, whole grains, and meat that you cook yourself, you will have a large and healthy  mix of the best microbes in your gut, and you are most likely not obese.

And you know something? It’s not a mystery why. You may think, “eww” at some of this, but babies who are born vaginally are exposed to their mother’s bacteria in the birth canal. They actually swallow some of this (hey, birth is a decidedly intimate act – if this makes you cringe, just think about what you swallow while you’re fooling around making a baby), and the baby’s here-to-fore sterile guts are introduced to their first bacteria. Breastfeeding furthers this colonization both through bacteria picked up on mom’s skin and through the milk itself. No, formula cannot duplicate this. Breast milk is created by a woman’s body specifically for the baby that grew in that body. As breastfeeding proceeds over the first months and years of the child’s life, the milk constantly adjusts to meet whatever the baby’s current need is. This includes antibodies against disease and good bacteria to aid in digestion.

Baby’s solid food also introduces gut bacteria, as well as adjusting the gut environment to harbor a certain mix of microbes. If baby eats rice cereal and food from Gerber or whoever, his gut environment changes to a fragile system that can harbor only a few kinds of microbes, which are not very efficient at breaking down food.

If baby’s solid food is Only Food (bought as ingredients and prepared at home), then we have another by-golly adventure: he ends up with a varied and active mix of helpful microbes that easily breaks down plant starches and fibers into somethng his body can use, rather than just store.

My sarcasm meter goes off the scale at this kind of thing, but I AM always happy when science finally catches up with common sense.  There are a lot pieces to human health and it is extremely difficult to study all of it. But just because we don’t know for a fact how processed food damages our bodieswe will all be better off to shun the food industry’s offerings and feed our bodies the real thing. Just because we can’t see immediate and obvious injuries from interfering with the natural process of birth, doesn’t mean we can interfere without consequences. Just because most people are bottle-fed and they all seem to be okay, doesn’t mean they ARE okay, and that it doesn’t make a difference if we breastfeed or not.

We are an extremely adaptable species and we can do a lot of damage to our bodies without immediately dying or going extinct. But I fully expect that science will one day KNOW how all these things have made us sick, weak, dumb, violent. depressed, psychotic, nervous, or any number of things. At that point, all we can do is mourn what we could have been. There’s no do-over here.

There’s a price to pay for everything. Seems that the price for doing right by our bodies would be a lot easier to pay in the long run.

 

5 thoughts on “The Price of Convenience”

  1. Is there any hope of transplanting a healthy mix of bacteria?
    BTW bottle feeding is not always a matter of convenience. I was bottle fed, as were my sisters, because our mother had tuberculosis as a girl.

    1. Hi Sue! Good to hear from you. They are working on fecal transplants for severe cases, but getting past the ‘ew’ factor on that will take time. And the article mentioned there are attempts to “put” a healthy mix into processed food. The joke is, we could save all kinds of money and time by just eating the right food to start with. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to get it right in a laboratory. Nature has already done it for us, why screw it up?

      As for the bottle feeding – I know. There are always reasons why someone can’t breastfeed. But truly, the honest, medical reasons are rare. If they weren’t rare, there wouldn’t be any mammals running around the planet. So for every ten people telling you their very good reasons for not breastfeeding, probably 0.5 of them actually have a real medical reason. It’s probably 1 or 2 orders of magnitude less than that. For those who just flat out don’t want to breastfeed – I don’t have anything to say to that.

  2. SueAnn: Yes, transplanting bacteria is a hot area of research right now. Search “fecal microbiota transplantation” to find out more.

    Marlene: I was surprised to hear they also found bacteria in the placenta! (e.g. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-bacteria-in-the-placenta-could-help-shape-human-health/). FDA approval for foods, additives, and drugs have never included impact on our intestinal biome. We think of ourselves as individuals, but really, we are symbiotic hosts. There are more bacteria in our bodies than there are cells of us.

    1. Exactly, Karl! Which is why the scientific method, as marvelous as it is, cannot find all the answers for everything. Some things just can’t be broken down far enough. And often, when we do break things down and isolate variables, we don’t get an accurate result, because the real life results are far too dependent on those variables. One example I’ve always thought about is the fat in our food. Our country is still stuck on this low-fat food paradigm that is absolute nonsense. The symbiotic web that is a human body NEEDS a certain amount of the right kinds of fat. Science will never figure it out exactly.

      1. I understand your sentiment but, being a scientist myself, I wouldn’t go that far.

        Science doesn’t “find answers” or “figure anything out.” People do. Hypotheses are conceived in the imaginations of people. Science is just the process for determining if that imagined thing is fact or fiction.

        Yes, science is slow. Gathering a conclusive body of evidence to sway scientific consensus can take a career. But I am an optimist as well as a scientist. The only limit to what we can figure out using science, is the limits of our own imagination (to create hypotheses or design experiments) and cognition (to understand resulting data or apply it correctly in predicting future outcomes).

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