Biodiversity and the Least of Our Brothers

Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.  Matthew 25:40-45 American Standard Version.  

Microbes form the interface between matter and energy that all other life forms depend upon.  Damage microbiomes and we damage ourselves.

Microbes form the interface between matter and energy that all other life forms depend upon. Damage microbiomes and we damage ourselves.

Social norms, various laws, and widely shared ethics prevent most of us from killing other human beings. Animal lovers and certain vegans object to the killing of pets, whales, livestock, and other large creatures. But human benevolence is biased towards big creatures. Rarely does one argue the need to preserve ants, houseflies, mosquitos, and cockroaches.  In fact, I am reasonably certain I could live quite happily if I never saw another mosquito again.  So when it comes to the very least of our brothers, the microbes that occupy every niche of our planet, the suggestion that these little critters need to be protected and preserved may sound absolutely ludicrous.

It is not!
We’ve known for decades now that microbes, creatures too small for the eye to see, occupy pretty much every nook and cranny on our planet. Thanks to new breakthroughs in metagenomic sciences, dimensions of the microbial world are being exposed in new ways, with an understanding that transforms everything we previously knew, or thought we knew, about “germs.”

      Today we know that there are diverse microbial communities associated with all kinds of living cells.  In fact, 90% of the cells associated with the human body are microbial.  Of course, the structure and function of that microbial community is drastically altered by the chemicals in our food and prescription drugs.  But in a natural system, these microbes function to cycle nutrients and detoxify waste.  These critical activities form the basis for earth’s life support system.

How might we benefit from protecting the least of our brothers?  If microbial communities on our soil, in our water, on our skin, in our food, and in our bodies were allowed to form naturally, without alteration by chemicals and drugs, we could expect:

1) Cleaner drinking water  (microbes already form the basis for sewage treatment plants)
2) Cleaner air (microbes in the soil can sequester greenhouse gasses)
3) Healthier food (microbes in the soil cycle nutrients important for plant growth and healthy food systems)
4) Healthier people (Microbes help us extract nutrients from our food and break down toxic chemicals)
5) Cheaper food (crops grown in biologically enriched soils produce greater yields with fewer inputs)
6) A better economy (Healthcare, food, and energy are major drivers of our economy.  Microbes can benefit each of these areas).

So before you grab hold of that hand sanitizer, consider your alternatives.   There are two ways to reduce the risk of microbial based diseases.

The most common approach today is to kill all the microbes you can.   This is risky, because you are also killing a portion of our planetary life support system. In the last century, microbial elimination became the dominant approach to disease prevention, and we reduced the spread of infectious disease.  Yet today 50% of the adults in our country are suffering from chronic disease that is crippling our healthcare system.  So while we have reduced infectious disease, we’ve also eliminated our capacity to process the nutrients necessary for good health.

A better approach is to nourish your microbiome with whole foods and natural products, in place of drugs and other purified chemicals.  When you do this, you feed a diverse community of microbes, including those that eat the bad guys, maintain metabolic balance, and support overall health. Does feeding your microbiome work? Well, the FDA has not approved this statement. But Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, taught that food is the best medicine.  And if you visit with people who routinely eat whole organic foods, use natural blends on their skin and hair, avoid synthetic medications, and clean their homes with green products, you tend to find healthier people than those who stand in line at the pharmacy waiting for their flu shots.

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