What’s your gut telling you?


Did you know that nine out of every 10 cells in your body are your intestinal bacteria? When they are healthy and happy, you are healthy and happy. And what makes them happy?

Let’s back up a bit and remember the compost pile. Compost is the source and destination of all life. Shakespeare knew that. The Friar in Romeo & Juliet says, “What’s nature’s mother is her tomb/What is her burying grave, that is her womb.” And what is compost? It’s the decomposed remains of what was once living tissue. And who does the decomposition? Soil bacteria, primarily, although other critters get in on the act, too. But it’s the soil bacteria that play the biggest role in actively decomposing organic matter.

Many of the soil bacteria that are the wrecking crew of dead tissue are the same or closely related to the bacteria in our guts. They have the same function–to actively tear apart dead tissue and release its nutrients for those creatures–plants and animals–currently alive. The atoms are eternal, but are endlessly recycled into living beings and then into dead tissue and then into constituent molecules and then back into living beings.

Now, the greater the biodiversity in an ecosystem, the healthier that ecosystem is. In a compost pile, all kinds of bacteria, fungi, worms, and what have you co-exist in a roaring furnace of life. And something like that happens within us, too. We eat organic matter in the form of mashed potatoes, hot dogs, salad greens, peaches, and so on. This organic matter reaches our bowels, where the bacteria live. They do within us what the compost pile does outside of us–they tear apart that organic matter and release its nutrients.

When a compost pile does this, plant roots take up those nutrients. Look at a root under a magnifying lens and you’ll see tiny root hairs extending into the compost and soil.

Now look at our intestines under a magnifying glass and you’ll see structures that look pretty much like root hairs. They’re called villi and they perform the same function as root hairs. They absorb those nutrients that the bacteria spill into the decaying organic matter within our intestines. The root hairs extend into the soil outside the roots. The villi extend into the soil within us.

It’s as if animals learned eons ago to pull their roots out of the soil, and internalize the process of decomposition so they can walk around.

I once asked a nutritionist what people should eat to become healthy. He said, “If half the diet is raw vegetable matter, the rest of the diet can be Twinkies. It’s the raw vegetables that keep the intestinal flora happy.”

As an organic gardener and long-time composter, I immediately understood why.