Gut Gangsters


Fun February Facts: Feb 7th was the day Monopoly was invented in 1935, the release day of the movie Pinocchio in 1940, the arrival in the US of The Beatles in 1964 and the birthday of Charles Dickens in 1812.

Ok, on to gangsters…

As we learn more about the friends that inhabit our digestive tract the more it becomes clear there’s a lot to learn. That being said, the current belief is that we live in synergy with these trillions of bacteria that act in their best interest while keeping the body’s overall health a priority as well. Without a good functioning host there is no place to call home.

Interest in the existence, action and role of our digestive bacteria is exploding right now. Tens of thousands of researchers and scientists across the planet are studying this fascinating realm around the clock, trying to gather information, decode clues, offer guesses and make conclusions.

Despite all the hoopla, the only thing we know for sure when it comes to our gut bacterial environment is that there’s a lot of these guys and they outnumber us by a lot. If you compare cell count, we are more bacteria than human by a 10 to 1 ratio.

One of the biggest questions that still remains is: do our gut bacteria determine our health or reflect our health? We “know” there’s a very intimate relationship between the two but don’t know what exactly they do although we are pretty sure they’re an important part of the health picture. It’s been hypothesized that some kinds of bacteria are health promoting while others makes us sick. Some families of bacteria promote fat storage while others keep us lean. Many people strongly believe we can even change someone’s health by changing their gut bacteria composition.

Since it gets really complicated and more confusing the deeper you dive into all this, my favorite way to look at the big picture right now is with a little analogy…

Gut Gangsters

There’s a big city, actually more like a metropolis, called Your Body City. It’s very big, complex and populated by lots of different people (cells) from all walks of life. They all live in harmony (most of the time) and are both looking out for themselves but also the welfare of their city.

Most of the people in this city are pretty good (good citizens) but there’s a population of folks that reside in the middle of the city that are known the Gut Gangsters. This population (our intestinal bacteria) have been hanging around for a while and have done so successfully by adapting to the city both by exerting influencing and conceding when necessary. Most of them live in the hub of all the action, the Port of the Gut, where all the goods are imported into the city. Here they interact and oversee nearly everything that goes into the city as it arrives. These guys have their fingers in almost everything across the city and have connections in the political and economical realm as well. These gangsters, for all intents and purposes, run the show.

The Families
Just like many cities, there’s two main families that run the show and battle one another for control.

One of these is the Bartoli Family (a bacterial family called Bacteroidetes). This family likes a smooth running city with a bustling economic vibe. Money in equals money spent. Keep things lean and party. When the Bartolis have the upper hand and are wide spread and diverse, the city runs efficiently and doesn’t hang onto much extra stuff (a.k.a. excess weight).

The other family is the Fratellis, the bacterial family called the Firmicutes. This family of folks are the gangster savers. They don’t spend much and “encourage” (wink wink) people to save nearly everything. They want the family and city to accumulate wealth as they fear a day when the resources dry out.

These two families interact on a daily basis and although they want to control the city they realize they need one another for the city to function well. Too much Bartoli domination means the city burns through its resources without the thought of allocating and saving resources and too much of a Fratelli swing leads to a stagnant and clogged up port and city.

When these guys all get along, the city hums along nicely. If they don’t, things start to get complicated.

Why would things shift one way or another?

That’s part of the question everyone’s trying to answer because no one really knows. We think that sometimes the city imports certain resources that boost one family, other times the other family gets the edge based off what’s coming in. This is the equivalent to a body taking in things such as toxins, chemicals, excess food, too little fiber, too much sugar, too little or imbalanced vitamins/minerals and several other possibilities. Some of these influences, along with impacts from stress, hormones, sleep, sunlight, circadian rhythm and other factors support or hurt the different bacterial families, resulting in a balance shift in our gut. If one or more of these environmentally friendly things happen to the city it boosts the Fratellis and they start to control the city. If the factors start boosting the Bartolis then they get the edge. Back and forth it goes, although many people seem to think that so many of the lifestyle factors we put ourselves through are Fratelli friendly and that’s why so many of us have a little extra weight and have a hard time losing it. A Firmicutes dominant intestinal biosphere also seems to encourage a bit more health challenges in general. Both families have contacts in the police force (immune system), with the Fratellis being a bit more corrupt and the Bartolis being a bit more law abiding.

Both families also have branches and sub families just like the bacteria and there are many other smaller families that exist and play a role in the city but never get big enough to threaten the big 2 families.

Wrapping Up The Gut Gangster Story

So what’s it all mean?

There’s a couple major kinds of bacteria in your body. One tends to be more favorable and associated with leanness and good health and the other is dominate in people with weight and health challenges.

What we need to figure out is if the city gets healthier because the Bartolis are in charge or if they are in charge because the city is doing well. This remains a very important question and will be at the forefront of the next 5-10 years of research into the body’s bacteria.

In the meantime, without expecting it to solve all your problems, it’s probably not a bad idea to bring in relatives of the Bartolis (ie good bacteria, plant matter, fermented foods, fiber) and put some environmentally friendly laws into place (rest well, hydrate, exercise, get outside and limit your toxins and chemicals).

Thanks for reading, have a great day!

P.S. Although they’ve been implicated in some bad stuff, don’t be surprised if down the road we find those Fratellis weren’t as bad as we thought and we’re just playing their role in a greater story…



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