Leading biologist calls for making hospitals dirty again, claiming sterilizing our rich microbial ecosystems has caused more harm than good. He came to this conclusion after discovering that dolphins were far healthier, the “dirtier” their aquarium water was.
When Dr. Jack Gilbert began studying dolphins in 2014, he made a life-changing discovery – the “dirtier” the aquarium water was, the healthier the dolphins were.
This observation changed his view of everything he thought he knew about bacteria and other microbes that the modern world is so afraid of.
“We saw the benefit in increasing the microbial diversity of the home,” Gilbert told The New York Post.
According to Gilbert, who serves as associate director of the Institute for Genomic and Systems Biology at Argonne National Laboratory, the lack of a rich microbial ecosystem, especially in our hospitals, might be causing more harm than good, leading to drug-resistant super bugs and infection-causing viruses.
“There are more bacteria in your gut than there are stars in our galaxy … and of these fewer than 100 species of bacteria compromise our health,” Gilbert is quoted as saying in science writer Ed Yong’s book I Contain Multitudes.
Studies continue to prove that the best way to allow those few invasive species to exploit our bodies is to wipe out the diverse abundance of beneficial species that co-exist harmoniously and help us maintain homeostasis.
The overuse of antibiotics and anti-bacterial cleaners is disturbing this healthy balance of protective microbes in our bodies and larger environments.
Therefore, diversity, not sterility, should be our goal when it comes to micro-organisms, Gilbert argues.
Even though we can’t see them, we cannot underestimate the importance of microbes, Yong argues in his book:
“Microbes have spent 90 percent more time on Earth than we have, invisibly evolving for millions of years. Instead of evolving alongside them, we joined forces with them in what scientists call co-development. We cannot live without the microbes we host.”
Not only can we not live without them, we pretty much ARE them! More than 99 percent of the genetic material in our bodies is bacterial, founder of the American Gut Project Rob Knight points out.
Microbes, replace dying and damaged cells, help our bodies absorb and store nutrients and fat and even impact the shape our organs. They are the foundation of our immune systems, keeping “invaders” out helping our bodies learn to live with viral diseases that enter our bloodstream.
Our gut flora are responsible for digesting our food and regulating our moods and behavior. They determine how often we get bitten by mosquitoes, which painkillers are toxic to our liver, which drugs will work on our hearts, and maybe even who we are sexually attracted to, Knight says.
As further evidence we need to live “dirtier” lives, the “miracle” cure for C. diff (a bacteria associated with diarrhea and colitis) has been found in a surprising place – the toilet! Fecal transplants, where healthy donor stool is placed inside the gastrointestinal tract of C. diff sufferers, reestablish a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut. It now comes in pill form.
“In 2008, a group of villagers believed to have spent 11,000 years in isolation, were spotted in a remote part of the Amazon rainforest,” the New York Post reports. “Scientists discovered that thousands of years of seclusion had left them with the most diverse microbiomes they had ever seen. They concluded their microbial diversity was further proof that the battles waged against germs in the industrialized world had worked a little too well. Those of us living in modern cities, towns and villages had destroyed so much of the healthy microscopic life that belonged in our bodies, it had rendered our own microbiomes comparatively deficient.”
So there you have it. Maybe instead of scrubbing with soap and water – or, God-forbid, chemical hand sanitizer – we should do like the hunter-gatherers do and start washing our hands in the microbe-rich guts of dead animals 😉