You know the bit in a lot of science fiction where the hero/heroine becomes infected with an alien life form that takes over? Well, it’s already happened.
You are the alien life form.
You are a walking mass of cells. Any idea what the percentage of you, you sexy walking mass of cells, is human and what percentage is bacteria? Take a guess. Go on, take a guess before you read any further.
Ninety percent of the cells in what you think of as you are bacteria. You are a bacteria colony that has a human parasite attached.
Humans don’t start out with our bacterial roommates. The womb is normally sterile. When you are being born, you get infected with mom’s bacteria. (Kids born by C-section don’t get this.) Then you start crawling around, sticking random things in your mouth, licking the cat, sucking on your toes, all the fun stuff you probably don’t do much anymore unless you write blogs.
Since we invented antibiotics we have seriously screwed up our relationship with our bacteria friends. Because a few types of bacteria can make us sick or kill us, we got the idea that all bacteria are bad. We started taking a “kill them all, God will know his own!” approach to bacteria.
Did you know that most livestock raised for meat are kept continuously on antibiotics? This tends to make them gain more weight, and it means that farmers don’t need to keep animal pens very clean. This is a huge part of the reason that some very scary bacteria have evolved that can eat antibiotics for breakfast. Another reason is nervous parents who pester doctors for antibiotics every time their kids get a cold. Even though antibiotics have no effect on colds or the flu, a doctor would write the scripts just to get rid of the annoying folks whining in the little room with the paper on the couch.
Well, it gets worse.
It seems that beneficial bacteria play a critical role in keeping your immune system working properly. Without a healthy population of the right sort of bacteria your immune system just might go bananas and attack you. When this happens, you get to experience neat stuff like weird allergies that seem to come out of nowhere, rheumatoid arthritis, Type I diabetes, some delightful neurological disorders, and other autoimmune diseases fun and games.
It also seems that if you wipe out a bacteria by the name of H.pylori that lives in your stomach, by, say, taking antibiotics for an ear infection or something, it might make you fat. H.pylori plays an important role in regulating a hormone called ghrelin. Ghrelin is part of the mechanism that tells you you’ve had enough to eat and should put away the cookies. Without h.pylori, you could be on your way to being a contestant on The Biggest Loser.
So, you see, it’s time to lick the cat.