Monday, June 29, 2015

10% Human by Dr. Alanna Collen-- (so what's the other 90%?!)

Back in fourth grade, learning about the mites that colonize our eyelashes and eyebrows was an eye-opening experience, in the sense that I only opened my eyes again after shampooing my lashes and brows, repeatedly, for a very long time. As a kid, the thought of tiny organisms making themselves at home around my eyes freaked me out, and it tied into to my distaste for germy surfaces, used tissues, and moist kitchen sponges. Eew!

But, older and wiser, I’ve learned that microorganisms are not all bad, and in fact, 90% of our bodies are made up of non-human cells. In her new book, 10% human: how your body’s microbes hold the key to health and happiness, biologist and zoologist Dr. Alanna Collen says:

For every one of the cells that make up the vessel that you call your body, there are nine imposter cells hitching a ride. You are not just flesh and blood, muscle and bone, brain and skin, but also bacteria and fungi. Over your lifetime, you will carry the equivalent weight of five African elephants in microbes. You are not an individual but a colony.
For most of our history, the role of our non-human cells was not well understood, and only recently has mainstream science begun to develop serious research in this area. The Human Genome Project has been succeeded by the less well known but equally important Human Microbiome Project.  Collen's book collates many cutting edge studies to form a fascinating picture of this frontier in human health. Collen, who’s written for the Sunday Times Magazine and appeared on BBC nature shows, has a knack for making the science relatable for those of us who didn’t major in biology.

On the personal level, understanding that you are a super-organism made up of colonies of different types of bacteria which support or undermine your health, your behaviors, and your desires, may tempt you to bathe in rubbing alcohol and imbibe emetics.  But studies are finding that supporting our microbial partners, even replacing them when need be, is the way to go for better health and quality of life. Check out 10% human: how your body’s microbes hold the key to health and happiness to learn more.

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