YOU ARE CARRYING AROUND A BOWLING BALL. Really. And I’m only exaggerating slightly. Up to 9 pounds of our body weight is bacteria, most of which resides in our guts. Bacteria outnumber human cells 10 to 1. That’s a LOT of little microbes crawling in, around, on, and through our cells. Luckily for us, most of them (~85%) wear white hats. Only 15% are pathogenic.
This is probably not news to most of you. Open any newspaper or magazine. Bacteria are big news! And big profits. Who hasn’t heard Jamie Lee Curtis swearing by the probiotics in Activa? It’s old news now that antibiotics might not be as good for us as we thought, because they not only destroy good bacteria along with the bad, but some of the bad guys have gotten stronger, and now can’t be killed by antibiotics. We’re still trying to figure that one out. But the field is exploding (pardon the pun). We’re learning how bacteria underly all aspects of our health, mental and physical. Here’s just a sampling:
Gut Bacteria’s Role in Weight (New York Times)
Gut bacteria is implicated in heart attacks and strokes. (Science Daily)
Happy Gut Bacteria Key to Weight Loss (Mother Jones)
Early Gut Bacteria Regulate Happiness (American Psychological Association)
What Causes Colic? (Huffington Post)
Bacteria Boost Fixes Symptoms of Autism in Mice (New Scientist)
What’s ironic is that humans have known this for thousands of years. Modern science is just catching up with our grandmothers and traditional medical systems such as Ayurvedic and Chinese. They knew that health is achieved by maintaining balance (such as the balance between good and bad bacteria in our bodies). But, better late than never.
What’s cool about having so many microscopes trained on our bacteria, is their ability to not only identify what particular balance we have within us that may be keeping us healthy, trim and in a good mood, but how to change that balance when we are out of balance, or unhealthy. We can’t change our genes, but there’s a lot we can do to fine tune our particular microbial mix.
At the University of Colorado, Boulder, the BioFrontiers Institute can map your microbiome. Send them a stool, saliva and cheek swab and they’ll send you pages of data detailing what’s inside of you. They use a Star Trek sounding gadget called the Illumina HiSeq2000 sequencing machine. If you want more information, click on the UC link above. It’s interesting stuff, but the gist of it is they know what they’re doing.
Here are some interesting facts:
- Mother’s Milk gives babies not only the best nutrition, but a bunch of healthy bacteria, too.
- 66% of your immune cells live in your gut.
- Want to lose weight? Thin people have a different mix of microbes than insulin-resistant people.
- 95% of your seratonin resides in your gut. THIS IS BIG, GUYS! You’ve heard of having that “gut feeling” Well, they weren’t kidding, were they? Maintaining a healthy gut may just improve your mood.
- There are more neurons (cells that transmit and process information) in your entiric system (including your gut) than in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Wow.
- Want a healthy baby? Take a good dose of probiotics before giving birth. Babies take a big gulp of whatever bacteria is in your birth canal on their way through the birth canal.
- Suffer from IBS, Colitis or Crohn’s disease? While probiotics may not cure you, you may be able to manage your symptoms with the right mix of probiotics.
Happy, healthy, and in a good mood. I like it! Yogurt, anyone?
Saturday Salon question: How healthy are you?
SPACE TRAVEL? Why not? CURE CANCER? Sooner than we think. FEED THE WORLD? Absolutely.
All of the things that seemed so distant and impossible even 100 years ago have already come to pass, so I don’t see any reason why these seemingly impossible things can’t come to pass, too. To me, it’s not a matter of if, or when, but which ones we want to create.
I know that sounds a bit woo-woo, but we make discoveries and progress in the areas we study and fund. What do we want? That’s pretty much what we’ll get if we work for it. I hope I am alive long enough to see these wonders.
I am aware that nuclear war or climate change may make all of our other advances irrelevant, but just in case we don’t blow ourselves up or destroy our home planet so much that human life can no longer sustain itself, we might as well be prepared to live long, happy and healthy lives in peace with one another.
Saturday Salon Question: Do you think we should be excited about and work towards a better future, or do you think the world will end soon anyway, so why bother? (Watch the movie CONTACT for starters)
SOMETIMES GOOD THINGS HAPPEN! And yet, we tend to remember only the bad ones. Every day is filled with these yucky events: we lose our car keys, forget a meeting, our printer runs out of ink right before we need that document.
Went down to Laguna Beach last month and put money in the parking meter next to my car, not mine (wasn’t paying attention), so got an expired meter ticket when we got back. So….I wrote the city of Laguna Beach a very nice letter, along with a copy of my bank statement, which showed I paid that day, just not the correct meter. I expected the usual, “Sorry, but if you’re that stupid, you deserve the ticket.”
But, what do you know? There are actually reasonable people working at city hall! They reviewed it and gave me the All Clear! Yeah! Sometimes good things do happen. They did tamp down my euphoria by reminding me this was a one-time pardon, however.
So…Saturday Salon Question: How many good things happen to you every day that you don’t earn?
The sun shines.
Water comes out of the faucet.
Someone delivers food to the grocery store.
You have children and they are all healthy and OK.
Your roses survive, even though you forgot to water them.
You find a gas station just before you run out of gas.
Your husband tells you you’re beautiful in the morning, even though you know you look like one of Macbeth’s witches with a hangover.
ELECTIVES vs CORE SUBJECTS strongly suggests a value judgement, don’t you think? But it wasn’t always like that.
When we are little, our parents seem equally impressed with our ability to draw a sun with stick rays as they are our ability to write our names. Just about anything we do, including pooping in the toilet, is greeted with big smiles of amazement and giddy hand clapping. Crayons, finger paints, those little dull scissors, and messy clay are standard fare, filling Christmas stockings and covering dining room tables.
But once we enter school, even preschool, boy, did things change. Suddenly everyone gets serious and fearful that if they don’t stuff as many facts and figures into our heads as possible, we might not make it. Or, more accurately, we’ll make them, our parents, teachers, schools and states “look bad”. So state standards boards and school districts all try to outdo each other with how “academically rigorous” their standards are. Art and PE, in particular, bite the dust. Music seems to be holding its own a bit better, because people believe it helps kids score higher on Math tests. No one talks about how Music enriches their lives, just how it helps them score better.
Art (all the arts) have value in and of themselves. As a teacher for the last 17 years, from elementary school to college, and as a mother of two boys who ran a daycare in my home when they were toddlers, I can tell you first hand how important Art is. It reaches children and provides them with an avenue of expression that they may not otherwise find. I’ve had violent, hyperactive students who soared on intelligence tests, but were flunking the 3rd grade and could barely read, sit for hours, creating beautiful drawings, which resulted in their ability to focus long enough to memorize their math facts. Both of my sons became entrepreneurs – business is all about creative solutions. And they still enjoy art for its own sake.
Creativity and the ability to view the world from different perspectives is not only essential to whatever career they pursue, but is something human beings inherently enjoy. And with the world the way it is today, that’s an important gift to give our children. We need to be able to express ourselves, but creating and enjoying Art helps us ride the waves of anxiety when we’re worried about the latest curve life throws us (be it cancer, children in trouble, divorce or unemployment, to name a few candidates) without being overcome.
The latest brain research is out there about how diving into Art actually increases connectivity in the brain, improves memory and cognition, etc. But that’s not the reason I value Art. I know children need Art. Human Beings need Art. So, if you’re a parent, give that child or grandchild of yours lots of art supplies and a place to get messy. Then sit down with them and dig in yourself. You’ll be surprised at the results. And if you don’t have kids, or no kids at home, who cares? Go buy some finger paint and have some fun!
Saturday Salon Question: What part does Art play in your life?
DOESN’T THIS LOOK REFRESHING? No matter what your gathering, Saturday Salon, family picnic, or just a lazy Saturday at home, throw some cucumber, strawberries, or citrus slices into some cool, clear water and serve. My favorite combo is lime, mint and cucumber.
You and your guests will love it. And it will clear out the pipes We all need a little detoxing after a winter of indulging in comfort foods like donuts and lasagna.
MOTHER’S DAY, like most holidays, can be joyous or sad, and often both. If all of your children are happy, healthy, can stand on their own two feet, and love you, it’s a happy day! Even if your children live many miles away, (one of my sons is in South Africa today), if you know they love you and you have many happy memories together, it’s a happy day. You don’t need me or this post. In fact, you’re probably busy enjoying breakfast in bed, putting on your macaroni necklace, reading “I Love You, Momy” scribbled in red crayon with glitter-glue hearts.
But today I wanted to write to those women whose Mother’s Day might not be so bright: women who wanted to have children, but couldn’t; women whose children grew up and decided they were the anti-Christ and the source of all their problems; women whose children are in trouble far beyond their ability to help (in jail…on drugs…MIA). And last of all, maybe the most difficult, mothers whose children died before they did. When you love someone as much as we love our children, or want to, this pain is not easy to bear.
There are also all of those messy, in-between feelings Mother’s Day brings. We, being imperfect beings, often reflect on our mistakes as mothers. What didn’t we do that we should have, or what should we have done that could have prevented our children from making the mistakes all children, as fellow, faulty human beings make? For most of us, our errors at parenting were not major-for others, they may be very serious. If you made mistakes within the normal range, forgive yourself and move on. If you have some fixing to do-get started today. Apologize. Do what you can to fix your mistakes. Get counseling if necessary. Don’t do it again. Then, forgive yourself, and move on. They either will or will not forgive you. That is up to them.
This holiday may also bring sadness if our own mothers are gone now, or if our mother was less than stellar herself. I always think of my Mom today and on her birthday, May 11. She died way too young of lung cancer, something that now probably could have been dealt with so she could live many more years. When happiness came into my life I wanted to share those things with her. I wish she could have danced at my wedding, held my first book in her hands, discussed politics with John, just sat and enjoyed a beach vacation in a little cottage with me, reading a book, drinking tea in the morning on the patio. She was not a warm and fuzzy mother when she was young, but I am very grateful she and I made our peace before she died. That’s another post for another day, but there is a gift of peace that comes when you forgive someone for something they’ve done or not done, even before they come around to apologizing or making amends. Whether they do or not, you are free to love them.
So…no matter where Mother’s Day finds you, there are things you can do to make it a good day. Thank any woman in your life that has been a good mother to you, now or sometime when you needed one years ago. If you are a mother yourself, think of the good memories you and your child share, then let go of trying to control the future. If you don’t have children, and really want some, there are millions who need to be loved. Find some and give them all that love you have to give.
Every Mother Counts.
For me, I am lucky to have both of my sons alive, and four new children to add to my life when I married John 5 years ago. It’s not all roses every day, they’ve had major and minor pain in their lives, and therefore mine, but they enriched my life, taught me a lot, and brought much joy. Children, in the end, are people you nurture and mentor to become independent, kind people who can take care of themselves.
Happy Mother’s Day!
SATURDAY SALON QUESTION: How responsible are we for what happens on the other side of the globe?
BANGLADESH is not a convenient place to do business. No good roads, unreliable electricity, and not exactly the most politically stable. So why has it become so popular as a manufacturing site for clothing? Walmart thinks it’s a great place to do business. Maybe it’s because Bangladesh is also one of the least-regulated places to do business, and labor is super cheap. Goodbye, China! Hello, Bangladesh! You can hire someone for less than $40 a month.
900 people died in the collapse of the Rana Plaza building, just to make you a cheap t-shirt. 8 more died Wednesday in a fire in a sweater factory there so you could save a few bucks.
Like it or not, we live in a global society, and what we do here affects a whole lotta people someplace else.
Who shops at Walmart? Some are the poor in this country, just trying to get by, and Walmart is the only game in town. With their cheap prices, they put many mom and pop shops out of business.
If you shop at Walmart because they’ve put everyone else in town out of business, you may have few choices…for a while. But if that is the case, and you truly have few other options…consider making some. Ferret out local businesses and support them. Buy only what you absolutely have to there, and shop online, grow garden, investigate where what you buy comes from. Start your own business. Carpool with friends and drive a few extra miles and shop someplace else. Move. Almost just kidding.
We can’t do everything, but we all need to do what we can, or the world will continue to be business as usual. Walmart business. The kind that results in death of 908 people, and the misery of the 4 million remaining workers employed by the garment industry there. Just sayin’.
THERE IS NO PURE SCIENTIST, TEACHER, WRITER, mother, father or friend. Everyone has an agenda separate from the common good. No one is pure.
But there are pure moments, pure love, pure discoveries, interactions and works that culminate in the common good. Human beings are capable of wonderful things, even in our imperfection.
So find yours. I am inspired by the discoveries and accomplishments of everyone from Nelson Mandela to J. Craig Venter to Allison Krauss. The beauty, the hope and the guiding stars they bring to my life are enough.
What inspires you?
GUESS WHAT? RICH KIDS DO BETTER IN SCHOOL. We all know that, but guess what? Test scores have actually been RISING for THREE DECADES here in America. Bet you haven’t heard that in the news lately. An average 9-year old today knows more math than an average 11-year old just one generation ago.
According to this study, including race, coming from a wealthy family gives kids the biggest boost in grades and test scores. But beyond this obvious point, this piece in Sunday’s New York Times is worth a read. It’s based on a study the author did with his students and does a good job in dispelling common myths about failing schools.
The insidious, and invisible to most of us, drop of the middle class child’s academic progress is the big surprise. The gap between the wealthy and the poor was always recognized, even if not officially. But middle class kids used to do well in school. Now, the wealthy kids are doing well and the middle class kids (whose parents are not doing very well in this economy) are plummeting.
Let me know what you think.
No Rich Child Left Behind, by Sean Reardon.
ONLY 2.5 PERCENT OF THE WATER ON THE PLANET IS FRESH WATER, and 75% of it is locked up in polar ice. Here in the U.S. the average family uses 300 gallons per day. It takes plastic 450 years to biodegrade. Of paper, glass and plastic, paper accounts for the greatest percentage of total waste, and it’s the most recyclable material. Desertification is increasing. The Sahara desert alone is spreading out at a rate of 48 kilometers a year. Fewer trees means less oxygen for us. Species are going extinct at an alarming rate. But we are no longer alarmed.
We’ve all heard these stats. They no longer have an effect. For years we have known what the problem is and what the answers are, but we lack the political will to do anything about it. Money trumps common sense. New economies want to have all of the advantages the first world has had for years. Corporations stay focused on this year’s profits.
So-pick your issue and make your voice heard. The health of the planet really is the battle that has to be won first, or we won’t live long enough to right other wrongs.