We are human.
Our bodies are composed of approximately 30 trillion human cells.
In addition, we house approximately 40 trillion microbes.
Therefore, we are not only human.
We are holobionts, individual universes of synergistic life. We are human, yes, but only in part. And in terms of numbers, we are less human than a conglomeration of organisms, without which, the body functions as little more than a husk.
Who is calling the shots?
Conventional wisdom tells us thought is conceived in the brain. Data stimulates sensory receptors, consciousness bounces around the frontal lobe, and decision-making occurs.
The vast majority of our microbiome take residence in our gut and we are coming to realize that they influence all aspects of our lives. Primarily consisting of bacteria, our microbiome also includes fungi, and at times, parasites and viruses.
How do I turn 40 trillion colleagues into 40 trillion friends?
Knowing how to listen to oneself is invaluable. This process extends to all facets of life. By realizing our physical and emotional requirements we need only imagine ways to meet them. Healthy relationships, a calculated diet, creative outlets, appropriate sleep, and consistent exercise are all pillars of holobiontic harmony.
Solitary confinement causes psychological and physiological impairment. Among these physiological effects are hypertension, heart palpitations, and profuse sweating. As you may recall, all of these are extensions of the vagus nerve’s reach. Evolved from social primates, healthy relationships are a fundamental function of our existence. The feedbacks triggered through social interaction in all forms and degrees of intimacy (sex!!) are vital for mental health and the exchange of biological material. Therefore, we must strive to develop beneficial, emotionally-healthy relationships.
“There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth.”– Chanakya
A Calculated Diet
When we are hungry, we must identify what we are hungry for. Our cravings represent the nutrients our 40 trillion friends are requesting. With time and experience, our ability to isolate craved nutrients becomes more accurate, allowing further creativity in their satisfaction. It is equally important to monitor when and how our body reacts negatively to consumables. Pimples, inflammation, and irritability are all common signs that we are upsetting our gut microbiota.
One of the most significant obstacles in calculating one’s diet is the tendency to “hack” our cravings. While our bodies and microbiome have spent generations adapting, the process is a tedious one. Cravings can sometimes be exploited through hollow means. We may choose a pastry or candy instead of fruit to satisfy the desire for sugar. We may hastily resort to symptomatic treatment for inflammation or depression, instead of applying a curative approach that addresses the rudimentary needs of our 40 trillion friends.
“To avoid potato chips, replace them with a salty snack that is higher in healthy fats and protein, such as cashews and walnuts.”– Natalie Butler, RD, LD
Creative outlets are the way we give meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. Meaningless is not to be confused with valueless, as one can have strong values, religious or otherwise, without life possessing an inherent meaning.
Through the process of experience, we develop relationships and preference. Through the process of application, we discover inclination and latent talent. Creativity in all forms is artful and intertwines the engagement of the body and mind. Dedicating time to creative outlets is correlated with better subjective well-being and life-satisfaction.
What’s important here isn’t what one is doing per se, but how it is being done. The act can be mental or physical so long as it engages an individual in non-deterministic application. The activity must be expressive to be meaningful, or else it will not occupy the neural activity that would otherwise pollute a peaceful headspace. For our brain to be an efficient computational device and microbial relay, we must exercise it through creative challenge.
“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”– Steve Jobs
Us humans, along with many other creatures, have what is called a circadian rhythm — an internal 24-hour clock that regulates our sleep pattern. Sleep deprivation, a condition existing exclusively among humans, results in the destruction of brain DNA and the proliferation of microbial balances linked specifically to obesity and type-2 diabetes.
Our gut produces chemicals just like our brain, including melatonin. The restorative processes that occur during sleep are deeply important to our bodily function. We become more susceptible to foreign contagions, chronic illness, and the development of bad microbiota when we fail to address our need for consistent, complete sleep. There is no glory in denying the body its restoration. You will die sooner and live a less-healthy, less-fulfilling life should you do so. Your behavior will be more erratic, your cognitive capacity will decline, your body will deteriorate. Sleep.
“Sleep services all aspects of our body in one way or another: molecular, energy balance, as well as intellectual function, alertness and mood.”– Dr. Merrill Mitler, sleep expert and neuroscientist at NIH
Exercise is a core component of maintaining homeostasis. Consistent exercise is shown to promote microbiota diversity in ways beneficial to the health of the human body. We didn’t evolve to be sedentary. To avoid a life characterized by chronic ailments, we must engage ourselves physically.
In doing so we fortify the body and mind. Regular exercise has been shown to decrease depression comparable to prescribed medications. How? Exercise causes the brain to produce chemicals like serotonin while growing new neurons. It also helps regulate our aforementioned sleep cycle, which can be disrupted by a sedentary lifestyle.
“Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.”– John F. Kennedy
Much of the above comes across as common sense, and that’s the point. We have 40 trillion microbes inside each of our respective bodies, and these are their demands. Yet, 35% of U.S. adults are sleep deprived. Approximately 40% of U.S. citizens are obese and 30+ million have diabetes. Our country is experiencing what some have deemed a “creativity crisis”.
Ignoring any of these lifestyle choices will result in an unhealthy microbial balance. And it should come as no surprise that detrimental microbiota will fight to keep their host in a suboptimal state. We can have 40 trillion friends or 40 trillion enemies; a healthy microbiome is the difference between having a “good” or “bad” immune system. In totality, the purpose of this article is to help the reader understand the framework for empowering their body so they may function to their best and highest purpose.
Free will is exercising how to want that which we are made to need.
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