You already know that humans are social animals. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted how awful life can be when we are isolated: loneliness, depression, loss of purpose. We desire, need, and thrive on social interaction.
Put aside the forced isolation of the pandemic for the moment. Pandemic issues aside, we live in a time in which social isolation, suicide, and divorce are all at record levels. Surely, technology, the dissolution of community, and other factors are big contributors to this sense of isolation most people experience, despite the growth of the worldwide human population.
How much could a decline in the capacity to generate oxytocin play a role? After all, consider:
- 96% of Americans have lost the microbe Lactobacillus reuteri. This species is a ubiquitous member of the intestinal microbiomes of hunter-gatherers such as the Hadza, the Malawi, the Yanomami, as well as chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, pigs and other creatures, suggesting that it plays an essential role in mammalian health.
- L. reuteri, via the vagus nerve-mediated gut-brain axis, provokes release of the hormone oxytocin from the hypothalamus and pituitary glands.
- Oxytocin is the hormone that amplifies affection you feel for other people, increases empathy, increases your ability to understand the viewpoints of others, and reduces the anxiety of social interaction. It makes you seek out the company of others and see life through their eyes.
- Put two-and-two together: The loss of L. reuteri from the majority of people means that we have lower levels of oxytocin, less empathy, less understanding of other peoples’ viewpoints, more social isolation, more social anxiety.
All this derives from the disruptions we’ve introduced into the human intestinal microbiome: antibiotics; glyphosate in corn, soy, and wheat; other herbicides and pesticides; stomach acid-blocking drugs like Prilosec and Protonix; non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen and ibuprofen; statin cholesterol drugs; synthetic sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose; emulsifying agents such as polysorbate 80, carboxymethylcellulose, and carrageenan in ice cream and salad dressings—just to list a few. The shrinkage in the number and diversity of microbes in our gastrointestinal tracts, what microbiologists call “the disappearing microbiome,” are responsible for a breathtaking amount of human disease and social ills.
Understand this, however, and you have been given the ticket to undo many of these unhealthy effects simply by restoring this microbe. And we do so by using a unique method of yogurt-making that increases bacterial counts into the hundreds of billions, thereby amplifying the benefits when consumed. (Please ignore some copycat recipes you can find on the Internet that don’t understand that this is not about yogurt-making; it is about creating a bacterial count amplification system to generate maximum bacterial numbers—but it happens to look and taste a lot like yogurt.) L. reuteri is just one among many other species lost from the microbiomes of most modern people. If restoration of L. reuteri and thereby enjoying greater levels of oxytocin has the potential to provide so many health effects from smoother skin to deeper sleep to increased empathy, just think what lies ahead for us as we learn about other lost bacterial species that we are able to restore.