10% Human: How Microbes Your Body’s Microbes Hold The Key to Health and Happiness

I picked this book 10% Human: How Microbes Your Body’s Microbes Hold The Key to Health and Happiness by Alanna Collen a science writer with a master’s degree in biology and a PhD in evolutionary biology, up on a shelf by chance in the Hong Kong airport during a long wait for my flight back to Manila. I was suppose to buy another book (I think it was “What Makes Us Human”) but on browsing a few pages of this book I immediately knew I could not let this book leave my hands. Don’t be turned off by the clickbait-like sounding title, I initially was too before I went beyond the cover, it’s full of the latest scientific research. It will fill your mind with ideas that may sound unconventional at first, but may be the start of the next major advances in medicine.

The book is entitled 10% Human since the author points out that for every 1 human cell in our bodies there are 9 other cells of other organisms on our body, mostly in the microorganisms in one’s gut. And while there is much understanding of how the human body and its cells work, there is not much understanding on the other 9 cells. Some of the concepts she discussed in this book are absolutely groundbreaking, such as the link between obesity and antibiotics, and the links autism and antibiotics. While these ideas are not yet mainstream, she presents the facts and very latest research, which is hard to refute.

It makes further sense to think that our gut microbiota are so beneficial to us since they have been evolving with us long before we were humans (maybe even before we were mammals, or even amphibians). This reminds me of the Selfish Gene by Dawkins, and  in the context of this book, it makes perfect sense.

Doctors Prescribe Antibiotics Way Too Often, Unintentionally Harming Us

In this book the author makes arguments against the the indiscriminate and unnecessary way today’s doctors prescribe antibiotics. In most cases, antibiotics are not necessary. As we know, cold, fevers and flus are viral, and antibiotics in most cases will not do anything in most cases to help. In fact, the the antibiotics will do more harm than good because it will kill off species in your gut, including beneficial ones. I felt good reading this, as for most of my life I steered away from taking antibiotics, as my mother advised me this same thing.

Obesity and Antibiotics

The links she raised between gut microbiota and obesity are extremely interesting. The author tells us that one of the reasons for this ‘obesity epidemic’ is not just the fat, sugar and an overall excess of calories, but the use of antibiotics that has . While this shatters some of the most fundamental ideas on what is causing this obesity epidemic, the facts speak for themselves. After all, agriculturists have been using antibiotics to fatten our livestock for decades (without precisely knowing why). It makes sense that antibiotics make us fat too.

It is comforting also to know, the author notes, that is not merely man’s own sloth and greed paired with the abundance of cheap and accessible calories that has made him so fat, but the unstudied effects of antibiotics on weight.

Autism and Antibiotics

I very highly recommend also reading the book for its discussion on the links of autism and antibiotics. This part itself is invaluable information which any parent should read. Apparently many cases of autism are caused when toxins that leak from the gut because of an imbalance in the gut microbiota because of antibiotics.  The precise mechanisms of this are not fully understood by science (at the time of writing of this book) but the links are strong and clear. If I hadn’t read this book, I’d think this would be scientific mumbo-jumbo. But I have learned to admire the times when I change my minds despite my feelings when presented y facts.

What is lacking in modern man’s diet?

This book also taught me something about diet. The problem with most modern people for the health of their microbiota is that their diet just lacks fiber, and this fiber is best supplied by green leafy vegetables, beans and whole grain. That sounds like a perfect complement on other ideas on how to diet properly.

What is a fecal transplant?

There is much talk in the book about the benefits of fecal transplants, a treatment that recently is starting to be accepted because of its proven benefits. A fecal transplant is when you get the poop of someone who has a healthy gut microbiota, usually someone who has had little or no exposure to antibiotics, put it in a fancy blender and shoot that blended poop into the gut of someone who is sick and has a lot less strains of the good bacteria. This introduced poop, which by the way is mostly bacteria in weight, would help populate your gut with beneficial strains of bacteria which it are lacking. It seems that the measure of health of your gut microbiota is how many species of bacteria there are in in. While some groups like American Indians or Malawi  in Africa would have around 1,600 and 1,400 species of bacteria living in their gut, the average American would have around 1,200 species.

One thing I suspect reading the book though is that at least for some parts she used may ghost writers since there are a some parts where the phrases are oddly repeated or sound a bit mechanical, a bit away from what I perceive to be the author’s voice. There are times when Wikipedia-ish facts on a topic are just rattled off, much like how it would sound if you paid someone to help finish part of the book, and they just culled of the facts from webpage rather than spoke with natural flow. This of course is a guess. And in no way do I think this detracts from the immense value you can get from reading this book.

You can check out a lot more reviews of this book on Amazon here.

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