You can’t have a thought, feeling, sensation, or mental image without calling upon your brain, and this close relationship makes us human. Since 100 billion brain cells are constantly generating your mental life, no relationship seems more important, and everyone has a fear in the back of their mind about what might happen in old age if Alzheimer’s strikes, in essence destroying the mind-brain connection.
But as precious as this relationship is, your brain has a more important relationship that was hidden until about twenty years ago. This precious relationship is with bacteria, and even when you are asleep or thinking about nothing at all, the communication never ceases between the brain and bacteria, specifically the bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract (the gut microbiota).
Between them the brain and your GI tract have created a real-life matrix, just like the one in science-fiction. You are alive and relate to your brain inside this tight structure of biochemicals that carry thousands of messages per second between microbiota and brain. At first sight this seems unbelievable, because few life forms have genetics as rudimentary as a bacterium, and no life form has a brain as complex as the human brain. An old proverb says that even a cat can look at a king. Biologically speaking, the lowly bacterium (along with viruses and microscopic fungi) does a lot more than look at your brain, more even than eavesdropping on it.
The trillions of bacteria in the microbiota feed off the indigestible parts of the food you consume (i.e., fiber and so-called resistant starches), a fact taught in every health class in school. Digestion supplies the energy and nutrients that keep us alive, so it looks like a basic and therefore crude process. But digestion is actually an evolutionary miracle. Bacteria thrived for billions of years doing whatever they wanted to do, and at an invisible level they rule the planet, along with fungi and viruses. They are the master DNA of life on Earth.
Since some of these micro-organisms cause disease and decay, it’s easy to see them as a threat, and most people still do. If you consider life to be survival of the fittest, bacteria are much more fit than we are, and it is amazing that at least one or two thousand species of bacteria decided to support human life. Taking up residence on the skin, on the surface of moist mucus tissue like the lining of the mouth and nose, and far more importantly, in the GI tract, bacteria wove themselves into our own DNA.
They make a healthy immune system possible. They help synchronize the body’s many clocks (biorhythms), beginning with sleep. They modulate our response to stress, inflammation, and probably our susceptibility to all manner of chronic disorders including cancer. Should the flourishing bacterial colonies in your GI tract get disturbed, there can be a cascading effect of enormous consequences. The fact that microscopic bacteria can lead to wholesale disruptions in the body may seem like throwing a baseball through the window of a skyscraper and having the entire building collapse.
The chemical story of how this occurs is so complex that a complete understanding is far away, if it will ever be achieved. But some lessons have emerged, such as the following:
Because people are fixated on diet and diet is critical for a healthy microbiota, some guidelines about what to eat are necessary. One basic fact must never be forgotten or neglected: these micro-organisms feed upon the indigestible parts of the food you eat, in other words, fiber in plant-based foods. The more varied your sources of vegetable fiber, the better, which is largely why the Mediterranean diet is so salubrious.
Humans do not have the genetic potential to produce the enzymes that break down this fibrous material. A few other findings are relevant. Interestingly, eating cooked white rice or baked potatoes after they cool down increases their resistant starch quality and feeds the symbiotic microbes in the gut better. Ironically, potato chips, which are heated, then cooled, in a sense have become a new “health food.” The same idea applies to freezing bananas or eating green bananas. Soaking raw oats in milk or yoghurt overnight is another good idea that provides resistant starch.
Lentils, whole grains, cashews, and flaxseed are examples of foods with high resistant starch content. All vegetables, fresh berries, and fruits provide a rich source of soluble fiber, indigestible carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, which the average person does not consume enough of. Switching from the typical American diet to an organic whole-foods diet with a strong foundation in plant-based food is a tall order, but at least the science is there.
Where science isn’t there, one can affirm, is explaining the matrix that is the web of life. All evolutionary time is contained inside us. Life is supported by constant intelligent communication, and although the chemical carriers are fairly well known, with more discoveries on the way, the most fundamental mystery remains unsolved. What reason is there for bacteria to learn to talk to the brain or to benefit human life in the first place? We only know that this has occurred. No one could have made the story up, and in the end the human brain may be incapable of grasping how the matrix works, because that would be like explaining every drop in Niagara Falls while the water is moving.
What we know so far about keeping the matrix healthy is barely a beginning. The flow of creative intelligence cannot be observed directly, and the link between mind and matter is almost as murky as it was for the ancient Greeks. Everyone has a pet theory about these interlocked enigmas. Meanwhile, without thanks and often without being noticed, the mystery has been content to recreate life every second for three billion years.
Join Panache Desai each weekday morning for support in reconnecting to the wellspring of calm and peace that lives within you and that has the power to counterbalance all of the fear, panic, and uncertainty that currently engulfs the world.
Designed To Move You From Survival and Fear to Safety and Peace. Available Monday - Friday. Meditation begins at 9 AM. Access early to hear Panache's monologue - around 8:30 AM.
...on all things life, wellness, love, transformation and spirituality...
PLUS! Get your FREE Guide: 12 Mindfulness Practices to a Peaceful Mind