"Fascinating... A beginner's guide to microbiota.” – Philadelphia Inquirer
It may come as a huge surprise, but you are only 10% human.
Each cell in your body has nine impostor cells. You are a combination of flesh, blood, bacteria, fungi, and more. These microbes play a crucial role in our health, affecting our weight, immune system, mental health, and even our choice of partner. Neglecting our relationship with these microbes can lead to various modern diseases.
However, we have the power to improve our microbial composition. In her compelling book, biologist Alanna Collen explains how our personal colony of microbes shapes our lives and offers valuable insights for change. Let’s dive deeper on the world of microbiota and review her book.
Alanna Collen is a distinguished science writer, holding a master’s degree in biology from Imperial College London and a PhD in evolutionary biology from University College London and the Zoological Society of London.
With her vast knowledge and expertise, she has traveled extensively as a zoologist, specializing in bat echolocation and acquiring a unique collection of tropical diseases along the way.
Collen’s contributions to the field extend beyond her academic achievements. She has written captivating articles for the Sunday Times Magazine. Her insightful perspectives have also reached broader audiences through her appearances on renowned radio and television programs, including BBC Radio 4’s The Tribes of Science and Saturday Live, as well as BBC One’s thrilling adventure-wildlife show, Lost Land of the Volcano.
What is the book about?
The book ‘10% Human’ explores the role of microbiota in human health and how embracing our microbes is the first step in valuing who we truly are.
The human body contains 100 trillion microbes, mostly bacteria, alongside other microbes such as viruses, fungi, and archaea. Together, they contain 4.4 million genes, which collaborate in running our bodies alongside our 21,000 human genes.
The phrase ‘10% human’ refers to the fact that only 10% of the cells in our body are actually human cells, while the other 90% are microbial cells that make up our microbiota. These microbes play a crucial role in our health and well-being, and embracing them is the first step in valuing who we truly are as humans.
The book also discusses the possibility that modern illnesses could be a consequence of differences in microbiota and the damage caused by these differences.
Key takeaways from the book
1Microbes play a crucial role in our overall health and well-being
Our personal colony of microbes influences our weight, immune system, mental health, and even our choice of partner. Neglecting the relationship with our microbes can lead to various modern diseases such as mental illness, digestive disorders, allergies, autoimmune afflictions, and even cancer. The book emphasizes the need to cherish and nurture our relationship with our personal colony of microbes for a healthier life.
2There is a hypothesis that weak microbiota leads to obesity and autism
The author discusses how obesity exhibits epidemiological patterns similar to infectious diseases and cites studies conducted on chickens, where a specific virus caused them to gain weight without significant changes in diet or activity levels. The presence of this virus was also found to be more prevalent in obese individuals compared to lean individuals.
However, it is important to note that the book acknowledges the need for further evidence and research to support this hypothesis. While the idea of infections playing a role in obesity is thought-provoking, it is not yet widely accepted in the scientific community.
Regarding autism, the book highlights the emerging field of research examining the connection between the gut microbiome and neurodevelopmental disorders, including autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It explores the idea that disruptions in the microbial composition and function in the gut could potentially influence brain development and behavior. The author presents various studies and findings that suggest a potential link between alterations in the gut microbiome and ASD. However, it is worth noting that the specific mechanisms and causality are still subjects of ongoing research, and the book acknowledges the need for further studies to fully understand this complex relationship.
3Eating plant-based diet helps restore the microbiota health and improve immune system
As an adult, your diet and medication choices shape your microbial composition. Nurturing them well leads to reciprocal benefits.
Prioritising a diet rich in plant-based foods promotes a favorable microbial balance, laying the foundation for good health. Consciously choosing to Eat More Plants becomes essential for overall well-being.
4People should make a conscious choice regarding the use of antibiotics
While antibiotics are crucial in certain situations, their benefits must be weighed against the risks. It is important to consider the impact on our microbiota, but remember that antibiotics are essential for combating harmful bacteria. We should avoid overusing them unnecessarily.
Weighing the benefits against the costs requires the collaboration of an informed patient and an informed doctor. Strive to be that informed patient and ensure your doctor is well-informed too.
5Manipulating an individual’s microbiota to improve drug outcomes is the next step in personalised medicine
Currently, most antibiotics possess broad-spectrum activity, which is considered advantageous. Doctors can treat infections without knowing the specific bacterial species responsible since a broad-spectrum drug is likely to be effective. However, in an ideal scenario, we would swiftly identify the bacterium causing the infection and use a precisely targeted antibiotic to treat it. By targeting molecules unique to each pathogen, we could create antibiotics that selectively destroy the harmful bacteria, sparing the beneficial microbiota from unintended harm.
Table of contents
Prologue: Being Cured
Introduction: The Other 90%
1. Twenty-First-Century Sickness
2. All Diseases Begin in the Gut
3. Mind Control
4. The Selfish Microbe
5. Germ Warfare
6. You Are What They Eat
7. From the Very First Breath
8. Microbial Restoration
Coda: Twenty-First-Century Health
Epilogue: 100% Human
List of Illustrations
About the Author
About the Publisher
Overall rating & strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews
Written in a fairly scientific way and packed with provocative ideas.
Shines a light on the latest research in medical community.
Highly readable and filled with animals and cells studies.
Provokes thoughts on the relationship between our microbiome and health.
The relationship between the microbiota and the mind focuses almost exclusively on autism, and lacks bigger exploration.
Doesn’t include discussion on fermented foods and their ability to diversify and feed your gut microbes.
Quotes from the book
“…If you really want to boost your immune system, give up on the expensive berries and special juices. Instead, put your microbiota first, and the rest will follow.”
“Choosing to live with friends, or even strangers, though, could result in you sharing more than just the milk. One household included in the study was not a family, but three genetically unrelated people. Their shared environment was enough to bring about a merging of microbiotas. All three had many microbes in common, especially on their hands.”
“You are what you eat. What’s more, you are what they eat. With each meal you make, spare a thought for your microbes. What would they like you to put in your mouth today?”
‘10% human’ by Alanna Collen sheds light on the significant impact of microbes on our health, particularly our gut microbiome. It explores the connection between these microbes and various diseases, including obesity, autism, and metabolic syndrome. Collen presents intriguing evidence linking the rise of antibiotics and the obesity epidemic. She also suggests the possibility of obesity being partially caused by an infection, supported by studies on chickens. While the hypothesis is thought-provoking, more evidence would have strengthened the argument. Nonetheless, the book emphasizes the importance of the human microbiome and recommends consuming more fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables for improved health.
Where to buy
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