IMG_0915Happy Thanksgiving, Gydle people! One of my favorite blogs, Gone Floatabout, written by friends with a serious sailing affliction and unparalleled wizardry with a camera, mentioned that some of the blogs they followed are posting the 50 things they’re most thankful for this year. Seems like a good idea. After all, it has been scientifically shown that being grateful is good for your health.

One of the most popular TED talks of all time is by a super-smiley guy named Shawn Achor. He says that if you spend just a few minutes a day thinking of just three things you’re grateful for, you’ll be much happier. Imagine how you’d feel after listing fifty!  Continue reading

Eat sh*t and … thrive!

IMG_1040Everybody’s talking about the microbiome these days. If you’re not taking probiotics, you’re probably eating sauerkraut and swilling kombucha. I know I am.

What’s the Microbiome? I’m glad you asked. See, the human body is made up of about 10 trillion human cells. And that same body is also home to 100 trillion bacteria. Your mouth, nose, armpits, bellybutton, skin and especially your gut are teeming with thousands of different species of bacteria. Collectively, they’re called the microbiome. If you took them all out, they’d weigh about 2 kilos.

And then you’d die, because they play a crucial role in keeping you alive.

As I’ve written before, I’m convinced we’re being crowdsourced by these little suckers, manipulated by our microbes into maintaining these warm, well-nourished vehicles we like to call our bodies. Free will? Right. Just pass the croissants and nobody will get hurt.

But maybe for the more clever bacteriamobiles among us, there’s a silver lining. Maybe they’re not the only ones who can profit from this symbiosis. In short, there’s money to be made here, folks. There’s gold in them thar guts!

See, here’s the thing: In our western world of processed food and Monsanto and broad-spectrum antibiotics, more and more people are suffering from nasty gastric conditions like Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel, colitis and antibiotic-resistant Clostridium difficile infections. Their lives are ruined by the twin spectres of painful constipation and explosive diarrhea. Mainstream medicine isn’t a whole lot of help.

There is one thing that works, though, and it works amazingly well: FMT, Fecal microbiota transplantation, in other words, a shit transfusion. Poop from a healthy donor is blended gently with saline solution, and then deposited via enema into the sick person’s gut.

The new microbes get busy trying to take over the new territory. And from what we’ve seen, the healthy donor microbiome outcompetes the unhealthy one. With the help of its new inhabitants, the gut can heal itself.

A team at the University of Calgary has developed a much better delivery method: a poop pill, if you will. No more blenders, no more messy enemas. You just swallow a pill.

I know what you’re thinking. Ick. But coprophagia, or eating shit, is actually quite normal. If you have a dog, you know what I’m talking about.  Pandas, elephants, hippos and koalas are all born with sterile digestive systems. They have to eat their parents’ poop to survive.

And it’s not just other animals. In ancient China, sick people drank a yellow soup made with fecal matter and broth. Today, Bedouins eat fresh camel feces to treat infectious diarrhea. In the Middle Ages, doctors routinely tasted their patients’ poop to diagnose disease.

Hippocrates said that all disease begins in the gut, and he was right. It turns out that Crohn’s and C diff are just the tip of the iceberg. Experts are now finding that a whole raft of first-world ills could be associated with an out-of-whack microbiome: obesity, autism, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, even cancer and depression. Our obsession with cleanliness and our overuse of antibiotics have damaged our freeloading bacterial communities, who play such an essential role in keeping us healthy. Treating any these ills with something as simple and cheap as poop would be huge.

Now, here’s where you come in. Are you super-healthy? No auto-immune disease, hepatitis or STDs, you’re lean and fit, you abstain from alcohol, drugs and promiscuous sex? Do you eat organic kale?

I didn’t think so. Never mind. Are you a writer? Put down your pen! You could have a lucrative future selling, not bullshit, like you’ve been doing, but real shit. And if you’re not healthy, don’t despair. You live in Vancouver! Just go to a yoga studio and pass out a questionnaire. You don’t necessarily have to be healthy yourself, you just need to have access to the poop of someone who is.

And then get that shit working for you.

First step: cut a licensing deal with the Calgary folks for their poop-pill method, and set up a lab in your basement. Next, source yourself some good, pure product (you, your yoga friend, whoever) and get it safely to your lab and then certified as healthy by a professional. Three: get the word out. Think online sales or maybe a specialty boutique. You could set up shop in a closing cannabis clinic, maybe.

If you’re smart, you’ll get your foot in the door while the authorities are still hand-wringing about whether or not they should authorize widespread use of the technique. (It’s just a matter of time, trust me.) In the meantime, you could peddle it under the radar. On the brown market, so to speak.

You’re ideally located, after all: Vancouverites have a long and storied history of selling illicit product from their basements.

As in any business, you’ll need a niche. What’s so great about your product? Is it flavoured? Does the doctor certifying it have at least three professional degrees? Consider collecting in undeveloped countries where the diseases of civilization have yet to gain a foothold. It’s an expense, sure, but probably worth it. That stuff will be highly sought-after — pristine, pure, triple-A, 100% top-of the line shit.

Of course branding will be critical. Shit Happens. Or maybe Poopylicious.

Here’s an enticing picture painted by gastroenterologist Robynne Chutkan in  article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine:

“Imagine,” she writes, “a posh store displaying expensive samples that sell for more than $1,000 an ounce. The donor ate an unprocessed, non-GMO, plant-based diet, with no hormones or antibiotics, ever. The label says it’s from a rare and difficult-to-access source in the Himalayas. The samples are rigorously tested on site to assure purity and quality, and then flown back to the U.S. in a pressure-controlled, refrigerated jet.”

The luxury stool market (and I’m not talking furniture here) is the future of first-world medicine. Haute cuisine, make way for “haute manure.” Wait a minute. What about a partnership, via the restaurant washroom…

And remember, you heard about it here first.

The underpinnings

inspirationI’ve been doing some mindfulness meditation lately. It’s about the simplest “activity” you can imagine – you just sit on the floor, on a cushion, close your eyes, and breathe.  And I’m not just doing this because I’ve moved to Vancouver and gone all yoga. Okay, it’s partly that. But it’s also been scientifically proven to build you a better brain.

Studies have shown that you can improve blood pressure and anxiety levels, increase cognitive capacity, and stave off aging just by sitting and doing nothing at all. A Harvard prof has done research that shows that it only takes 8 weeks of a meditation practice to rewire your brain. The brains of the meditators actually got thicker in areas involved in attention and sensory processing. It’s like doing pushups for your brain! (And here I thought it was a bad thing to have a thick head…) Continue reading

Reality check

Think for a minute: When was your last existential crisis?

Who, me?  you say. Existential crisis? I don’t have existential crises. I’m a rational thinker. I’m practically an engineer.

I think everybody has existential crises, whether we recognize them as such or not. They’re in the high points, in the low points, in the situations that push you over an edge into a new thing. They’re moments in which you get a glimpse of the uncertainty at the very root of everything that is, and wonder about what your place in it could possibly be. You, this little wad of flesh and bone and bacteria. Continue reading

Huh? Say What?

There are so many things that don’t translate between languages. I could list reams of French one-word concepts that cannot be captured quite right in English. Every time I see one of them in a text I’m supposed to be translating I cringe. Vulgarisation. Valorisation. Territoire.

And then there are the turns of phrase. I understood that péter un plomb or péter un cable meant to be really pissed off, but for the longest time I had a really hard time visualizing someone farting out a bit of lead shot or wiring. In French yoga, downward facing dog is chien tête en bas. But I heard chat a tomba. The cat fell. Indeed.

So my interest was piqued when I received EPFL’s weekly Science question for translation last Sunday. There is, apparently, a word – or rather, one syllable – that has the same meaning in every language in the world. Continue reading

The One-body Problem

Da Vinci Vitruve Luc Viatour2Hello, December. What happened to November? All of October I was busy with the Yoga Project, happily scribing away my impressions, downward-dogging my way into a new yoga comfort zone. And then it seemed that November just floated right on by.  And then yesterday, December 1, I opened the New York Times (oh joy) and I realized that I had been subconsciously working on a blog post for the entire month. It’s long, but I hope you still read it.

I’ll call it the One Body Problem. Which is this: We only get one body. This is it. You get the body you were born with, like it or not. And then you die. Continue reading

You want fries with that?

Gydle has been silent the entire month of November. No excuses, I just didn’t have anything to say. Then I woke up this morning and my brain was teeming with ideas. Was it something I ate?

First, I have a great gift idea.

I got an e-mail the other day from “American Gut.” Imagine my excitement! The Human Food Project is live on IndieGoGo. For only $99 and a stool sample, you can get a list of the microbes colonizing your gut. Upscaling is a bargain – it’s $180 for two samples, $260 for three and a mere $320 for a family of four! Continue reading

The function of funks

I was a little worried that after my last post, someone would stage an intervention. Take away all my running shoes, maybe, or set up a booby trap in front of the door so I would trip and sprain an ankle. Remember, way back this spring I asked you to remind me to be moderate when I started going off the deep end. Thanks for nothing, people!

As it happens, I intervened all by myself and took two consecutive days off. Then I went into a funk. And that has really slowed me down. Continue reading

Holy hairballs, Batman! It’s not junk after all!

Greetings from hibernation nation. I did say I’d come out if something really big happened. Guess what? One of my current scientific obsessions was Big News today! No, don’t go away – it’s not the microbiome. It’s my other obsession: junk DNA. I’ve written about it before, here and here and here.

In a stunning “no doh?” development, a vast international array of researchers has discovered that the 99% of the human genome that was considered “useless junk” isn’t junk after all. Continue reading

More microbe than mammal

I know I’m supposed to be in hibernation, but something came up that was so good I just had to share it with you.

You know by now that I am totally fascinated by the human microbiome, those trillions of microbes that make up most of the human organism. I’ve written here on Gydle about how microbes in our guts may implicated in a variety of ailments, from diabetes to Parkinson’s to obesity and irritable bowel disease.

I also wrote recently that the massive NIH-finded Human Microbiome Project has had a number of publications like this one in Nature Magazine that outline thier discoveries about the makeup and function of a “healthy” human microbiome.  I have a feeling that what we find out about the microbiome may well revolutionize our approach to health and medicine.

You might also remember from last year that I’m also fascinated by the concept of crowdsourcing, a kind of data gathering approach that takes information freely and painlessly from tons of people who are just going about their ordinary lives. They’re mined for data while driving, surfing the internet, ordering things online, logging into websites, reading wikipedia pages, looking at the stars, pooping… Continue reading