You may have noticed that we live in a world in which (putting pandemic issues aside) social isolation is increasing, suicide is skyrocketing (35% increase between 2005 and 2015), half of all marriages end in divorce, and narcissistic behavior is sharply increasing. This last phenomenon, the rise of narcissistic behavior, has been tracked with measures such as the Narcissistic Personality Inventory administered by psychologists since 1963, have revealed a steep upward incline over the 60 years since these measures were tabulated. Surely, there are many factors that have helped cultivate these behaviors: social media, a consumerist society, virtually unrestricted freedom of speech and behavior, factors that, as individuals, we do not have much control over, making us spectators in such societal trends.
But there is one factor that we can address that can make a major contribution in reversing such socially destructive trends: restoration of the lost gastrointestinal (GI) microbe, Lactobacillus reuteri. Recall that L. reuteri is susceptible to common antibiotics. The amoxicillin, for instance, that you took 20 years ago for an upper respiratory infection therefore wiped out all the L. reuteri inhabiting your GI tract. Your mom may have given it to you when you passed through the birth canal or breastfed, but you lost it because of antibiotic exposure.
For those of you familiar with my many discussions about this microbe, you know that restoring this lost microbe causes it to colonize the entire length of the GI tract from mouth to anus, including the 24-feet of small intestine where it sends a signal via the myenteric nervous system (the extensive neural network of the GI tract), up through the vagus nerve to the brain and triggers release of the hormone, oxytocin. The more than 300% increase in oxytocin blood levels alters behaviors and emotions with effects that include:
- Increased intensity of love and affection you have for the people close to you
- Increased empathy, of understanding the feelings and experiences of other people
- Increased generosity, the willingness to help others
- Increased acceptance of other people’s opinions, even when they differ from our own
- Decreased social anxiety, the anxiety many people feel in social situations such as an office party, neighborhood get-together, or public speaking
Incredibly, I am witnessing all of the above phenomena play out in people who restore L. reuteri by making L. reuteri yogurt, i.e., using my method of prolonged fermentation (36 hours) that allows 12 doublings to yield around 300 billion microbes per 1/2-cup serving, not the meager millions or few billion of most probiotic products. People consuming L. reuteri yogurt have been reporting that their marriages and other relationships are better, they empathize more readily with the plight of others, they are more likely to donate to charities or others in need, they see people with different opinions as simply that, not as enemies. And they desire human connection and don’t shy away from it.
Restoring this lost microbe cannot undo the effects of social media or excessively coddling childrearing practices. But it is something we can indeed do for ourselves and for the people around us. I believe that making your family, neighborhood, community, or workplace nicer and more cooperative is indeed possible, but it requires this somewhat peculiar practice of restoring a lost microbe that exerts an unusually potent effect on human behavior. And, unlike pharmaceuticals that are accompanied by a long list of potentially dangerous side-effects, restoring this lost microbe comes with a list of side-benefits: smoother skin, restoration of youthful muscle and strength, preservation of bone density, increased libido, augmented immune response, accelerated healing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: restoring this lost microbe makes us better human beings.