Reading: 10% Human

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“10% Human” by Alanna Collen

I recently finished reading “10% Human: How Your Body’s Microbes Hold the Key to Health and Happiness” by Alanna Collen. I have been keen to learn all I can about the human microbiome since developing a nasty case of eczema and food allergies as an adult. I have long suspected the antibiotics I took as a young woman (and the subsequent yeast infections) had something to do with what I’m experiencing now. In fact I thought the eczema might actually be a fungal infection.

Well, according to this book, the imbalance in my body’s microbiome from the antibiotics very well could be causing the eczema and allergies. Further, the antibiotics I took for the kidney infection I had during my first pregnancy, along with the fact that I had my first child via C-section, could have caused my first-born to develop asthma and allergies. Oh, and it didn’t help that I struggled to breast feed my son because he had thrush. According to “10% Human,” babies who don’t go through the birth canal and those who don’t breast feed end up with a microbiome that isn’t quite right for their start in life. You see, it’s the mother who passes along the microbiome to the baby via the birth canal and breast milk. Nothing like giving my son the worst start ever, although my doctor at the time had no idea how to turn a breech baby, so I had no choice but to undergo the knife.

I found “10% Human” to be simultaneously fascinating and frustrating. The author’s coverage of the latest research in the human microbiome was the fascinating part. The microbiome wasn’t even genetically sequenced until the early 2000s, so how were any of us to know the seriousness of firebombing our gut microbiota with antibiotics? Although professionals working in natural medicine were on to something. They constantly warned about “leaky gut,” a condition in which the intestines are damaged in such a way as to allow inappropriate particles through the intestinal walls into the bloodstream, thus leading to allergies.

Here’s where the book got frustrating. The author goes on a diatribe against alternative healers, thusly:

“The concept of a leaky gut is a favourite of the alternative health industry, which can be as rapacious and truth-distorting as its more mainstream sibling, Big Pharma. Claims that ‘leaky gut syndrome’ is the root of all illness, and many other evils beside, are as old as the industry itself. But it has not been until relatively recently that any scientific understanding of its causes, mechanisms or consequences have been scrutinised. Though Big Pharma has many faults of its own, ‘alternative medicine’ can best be summarised as using two kinds of treatments: those that don’t work well enough to merit the title ‘medicine’, and those that are not yet backed by scientific and clinical evidence. Perhaps a third category of treatment deserves mention: those that cannot be patented and sold, including rest and a good diet.” (pg. 137-138, “10% Human by Alanna Collen)

The subtext of all this (and a section of the book on gluten-free diets) is that anyone who attempts to figure out a solution to their medical misery after having visited every regular doctor in a 60-mile radius and getting worse not better, ought to just sit on their hands and stay sick rather than visit one of those quacky alternative medical doctors. Better to wait until *Science*, with its double-blind, controlled lab experiments, gets around to figuring out a cure because you’re a fool if you do anything else.

Thanks for the lecture.

It was regular doctors who thought my irritable bowel syndrome was psychosomatic, rather than induced by antibiotics. It was regular doctors who had no idea that I should be taking probiotics along with the antibiotics in order to minimize the damage. While I can forgive doctors for not knowing the full extent of the effects of the microbiome on human health at that time (the microbiome hadn’t been sequenced then), I can’t forgive them for not prescribing probiotics now. Most of the time they say nary a word about probiotics as they hand over the prescription for antibiotics.

Meanwhile, the alternative healers I have visited have had sensible suggestions on regaining my health, including a conservative use of herbal remedies and supplements (just when needed, for a limited time only, far cheaper than Big Pharma), acupuncture, and methods for adjusting my diet and dealing with yeast infections after my yeasts became immune to the prescriptions I had been given.

Even with the eczema, traditional doctors prescribed medicines that made my condition worse. It was alternative healers and traditional medical professionals with a holistic bent that brought the eczema under control.

In my experience, alternative healers have been far more successful in helping me to be healthy than traditional doctors, so when they mention something like “leaky gut,” I’m going to give what they say some weight, whether science has figured it out or not. That may make me sound anti-science, but I’m far from it. Mostly, I’m impatient with the pace of science and the pigheadedness with which science clings to old ideas. (If I read another version of how fellow doctors ignored Semmelweis’s suggestion that they wash their hands between patients in order to not kill mothers giving birth, I think I will scream. I’m pretty sure medical writers can come up with a different example.)

If you can get past the opinionated parts of this book (apparently I can’t! – although I did finish it) and just read it for the latest science on the microbiome, it is worth a read.

 

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