I recently binge-watched a TV series named “Rig” about the crew on an oil rig in the cold waters of the North Sea who find themselves cut off from the world without Internet, satellite broadcast, or other means of communication, and a long distance from the mainland. A series of tragic events occur that, they discover, originate from their deep ocean drilling efforts that released a microbe hibernating beneath the ocean bottom, among the original ancestral microbes of all life. Interaction of humans with these microbes yielded all sorts of unexpected, sometimes miraculous, effects. Much of the episodes depict how the several dozen humans on the oil rig couldn’t decide whether the microbes were harmful and needed eradication, or whether they were something to be preserved and appreciated.
It struck me that this is close to what we are doing in restoring the microbes that we, as modern people, have lost, regaining the miraculous and unexpected benefits by re-implanting species that have been eradicated by such things as antibiotics. Lactobacillus reuteri is, of course, our prototypical microbe that, upon restoration, changes your body composition (increased muscle, reduced abdominal fat), hormonal status (increased growth hormone, testosterone, increased estrogen in postmenopausal females, increased oxytocin), eating behavior (reduced “hedonic” eating or snacking), and alters your social behavior, improves sleep patterns (deeper sleep with extended periods of REM, the phase of sleep responsible for mental health and consolidation of memories), the way you interact and view other humans (increased empathy, generosity, desire for human companionship, acceptance of the opinions of others). My own personal experience and that of others suggest that, not only is sleeping behavior and dream content different, so is the internal dialogue you experience during waking hours. We are, in effect, like the oil drilling crew in Rig, tapping into ancient wisdom, the wisdom that guided and molded human physiology and behavior for the previous three million years of our species’ time on this planet. Raccoons, deer, antelope, bears and other mammals all have L. reuteri resident in their gut microbiomes. Indigenous humans living in the Brazilian rainforest, Tanzanian savannah, or highlands of New Guinea, unexposed to antibiotics and other factors, all also harbor L. reuteri in their guts. We are the exception, nearly all of us having lost this important species.
Also consider this: When fecal microbes, species such as E. coli, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Pseudomonas, are allowed to proliferate due to the loss of suppressive species such as L. reuteri and others, then ascend up into the more permeable 24-feet of small intestine, i.e., small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, SIBO, that, in turn, allows endotoxin from the cell walls of these fecal species to enter the bloodstream, we experience a flood of toxic compounds exported to other organs, including the brain. Among the consequences are mental/emotional effects such as depression, anxiety, anger, angst, resentment, jealousy, narcissistic tendencies, and violence. When we allow the massive disruption of GI microbial species, we unleash the worst of human behaviors, a result of losing the ancient wisdom of the microbiome.
In other words, restoration of important microbial species that we have lost and eradication of unhealthy species is about a lot more than finding relief from bloating and diarrhea. It molds and influences numerous aspects of human physiology and behavior. If one microbial species, L. reuteri, can accomplish so much in reshaping human life, what other microbial species—bacteria, Archaea, fungi, viruses, phages—hold similar potential? It is a wonderful and thrilling thing to contemplate: How will tapping into the wisdom that accompanies our restoration of ancient microbial species change how we conduct our lives, our emotional and social experiences, our health?