Your Body Is a Superorganism Thanks to These Microbes

Cancer cells.3d illustration

Dr. Bruce Lipton, Ph.D., a pioneer in the field of epigenetics who worked as a stem-cell biologist has effectively bridged the gap between mind, body, and spirit. Of particular note is his approach to the immune system, a widely appreciated (yet poorly understood) function of the body.

We Are Made of Microorganisms

As humans, we each possess a microbiome, a community of microorganisms (such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses) that inhabit the body. Our bodies are home to about 100 trillion of these microbes, and their role in protecting us from disease cannot be overstated: They are not just necessary, but crucial, to human life on a great many levels. 

Microbiome research is an emerging field in which researchers investigate how the bacteria that live in and on our bodies affect our health and states of mind. Beneficial microbes in the gut have much to do with how efficiently we can extract calories from different kinds of food, how likely we can escape colon cancer or heart disease, and even how we metabolize different kinds of drugs. 

And, as Lipton teaches, these microbes regulate a wide array of aspects related to both mind and body—from the removal of toxins to gut feelings, and from sleep patterns to appetite. In fact, because of their role in the production of certain hormones such as serotonin, a deficiency in the microbiome literally affects happiness levels and may contribute to anxiety and depression.

The Crucial Link to Our Immune Systems  

Lipton brings the invisible world into focus, showing how three pounds of microbes in our bodies can make or break our state of health, and how they can be the deciding factor between life and death. He tells us that our skin is not only covered with bacteria and fungi but that every organ system is connected to the outside environment thanks to these tiny microbes. 

Surprisingly, our bodies are made up of 150 trillion human cells, but we have five to 10 times that amount of microbes. Thus, when we look in the mirror we are really looking at a network of bacteria and fungi, leading Lipton to apply a new definition to the very notion of a human being — a superorganism.  

Science has determined that we are more bacteria than human, and in his series, Lipton invites us to see how the microbiome is fundamental to sustaining and promoting health. The first line of defense is protecting our minds and bodies against environmental pathogens, or microbes that cause disease. The microbiome goes to work the moment we are born into this world and continues to keep us going until the inevitable end of our lives.

The microbiome is acquired after birth after the newborn infant leaves the sterile environment of the womb, and it guards against all sorts of environmental pathogens that touch the surface of the body. While most people, including doctors, are quick to assume that the immune system will attack, destroy, and manage these invasive organisms, Lipton offers a crucial and often overlooked part of the process: He teaches that it is the microbiome that deals with most external microbes, before our immune systems are called upon to address them. 

Our bodily system of bacteria and fungi immediately go to work to prevent invading pathogens from harming us and upsetting the nature of the microbiome community. “Even before germs can touch your body,” explains Lipton, “your microbiome has filtered out almost all of the pathogens.” Meaning, “the microbiome is the first deterrent to infection.”

Our Disease-Fighting Power  

For quite some time, physiologists, biologists, and other scientists have taught that foods we eat are broken down in the mouth, stomach, and intestines to make the nutrients available to the body. But that description of the digestive process leaves out an important stage. More recent findings show that the microbes of the digestive system actually carry out the final step of digestion, breaking the smallest pieces of food we eat into building blocks that feed our entire physiology. 

Without this large community of microorganisms in our bodies, we wouldn’t be able to digest foods, and life would come quickly to an end. For this reason, drugs such as antibiotics can have a detrimental impact on our health when misused or overused, as they kill off the microbes that are crucial to our survival, and do not distinguish between pathogenic microbes and friendly bacteria of the microbiome. Lipton teaches that when drugs or diseases have this type of deleterious effect, we must then go to work replenishing the lost microbes or risk further health complications. 

Dr. Lipton’s Life-Saving Knowledge 

According to Lipton, there are three primary functions of our microbiome: 

  1. To assist digestion. 
  2. To release hormones that influence our behavior and “gut feelings.” 
  3. To signal our immune system, so it effectively kills invasive pathogens, before they can damage our cells. 

The message Lipton offers could be the most important viewers will ever hear regarding health and wellbeing: Not only are our microbiomes essential to digestion and cellular health, but they are also critical to the hormonal system that affects everything from our sense of happiness to our energy production to the lymphatic system that removes waste products from your body.  

Lipton makes it clear that every cell in our body is dependent on the microorganisms that make up the microbiome — and good health depends upon the trillion bacteria that keep the body active and healthy.

Next Article

Guide to Alternative Medicine Part 1: Traditional Chinese Medicine

“When health is absent Wisdom cannot reveal itself, Art cannot become manifest, Strength cannot be exerted, Wealth is useless and Reason is powerless.”
— Herophilies, 300 B.C.

Just a decade ago, if patients wanted to explore unconventional treatment options they were on their own. Traditional health professionals generally didn’t encourage alternative therapies or treatments, and discouraged departures from allopathic treatment models such as drugs and surgery.

As research validates the efficacy of non-traditional treatment models, such as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), ayurvedic medicine, massage and chiropractic adjustment, naturopathy, diet, and natural supplementation — even homeopathy and sound therapy — new branches of medicine emerge.

Integrative, Functional, Complementary, and Alternative Medicine

The “integrative” medical model developed during the early 1990s but was formalized when the National Institute of Health (NIH) created the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). This classification covered non-conventional treatment and research, and was the beginning of a slow recognition of alternative systems. Integrative models include consideration of a patient’s lifestyle, body, and mind, and how to promote well-being for the whole person rather than just diseases and their symptoms.

“Functional” medicine refers to holistic and alternative medical practices intended to  improve overall functions of the body’s systems and explores individual biochemistry, genetics, and environment to determine underlying causes of disease.

According to the NIH, “complementary” medicine coordinates non-mainstream practices with conventional treatments. This has driven acceptance of alternative therapies such as TCM, diet, and nutraceuticals, or supplements.

Alternative medicine is any practice that falls outside conventional systems and is not combined with traditional treatments. For example, if patients choose Ayurvedic medicine, dietary changes, and supplementation to treat their cancer and exclude conventional therapies, they have entered the realm of alternative medicine.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

“Those who disobey the laws of Heaven and Earth have a lifetime of calamities while those who follow the laws remain free from dangerous illness.”

— Huangdi, The Yellow Emperor,  2698–2598 BCE

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) claims to be the third-oldest medical system, preceded only by Egyptian and Babylonian medicine. Theories of TCM are believed to be at least 3,000 to 4,000 years old — likely older, predating written language.

The foundations of TCM are meridian channels and acupuncture points that conduct the movement of chi, and the five-element model correspondences to these points and channels. This five-element system of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water also applies to seasons, colors, sounds, sense organs, personality types, Chinese astrology, feng shui, the I Ching, and countless other aspects of Chinese culture and life.

The Five-Element System in Chinese Medicine

Called the Wu Xing, this five-element system defines relationships between the elements and considers them to be in continual active cycles wherever they are found. Mother/child, or generating relationships, are: wood fuels fire, fire forms earth (think of volcanic flow and ash) earth produces metal, metal carries water (buckets, pipes, etc.), and water feeds wood.

Conversely, there are antagonistic (father/child) relationships: fire melts metal, metal penetrates wood (ax, saw), wood separates earth (tree roots break soil), earth absorbs and directs water (river banks), and water extinguishes fire.

Feng Shui destructive cycle, five elements

Chinese and Taoist doctors, called OMDs (oriental medicine doctors), see a patient through this lens of five-element relationships, along with yin and yang (passive and active) qualities. Organs are paired into male and female element families that include seasons, colors, compass directions, sense organs, emotions, and virtues. The female, or yin, organs are continually active — the Chinese say a woman’s work is never done — while male yang organs have periods of rest and activity. Element family qualities are:

    • Metal: Lung (yin), large intestine (yang); season: autumn; color: white; direction: west; sense organ: nose; emotion: grief. When balanced, grief becomes the virtue of integrity.
    • Water: Kidneys (yin), bladder (yang); season: winter; color: black; direction: north; sense organ: ears; emotion: fear. When balanced, fear becomes the virtues of poise, calm, and alert stillness.
    • Wood: Liver (yin), gall bladder (yang); season: spring; color: green; direction: east; sense organs: eyes; emotion: anger. When balanced, anger becomes the virtue of kindness.
    • Fire: Heart (yin), small intestine (yang); season: summer; color: red; direction: south; sense organ: tongue; emotion: rush/rudeness. When balanced, rushed rudeness becomes the virtues altruism and  joy.
    • Earth: Spleen (yin), stomach(yang); season: late summer; color: yellow; direction: center or middle; sense organ: mouth; emotion: worry and overthinking. When balanced, worry and obsession become the virtues of balance and equanimity.
Read Article

Related Articles

More In Alternative Health

Our unique blend of yoga, meditation, personal transformation, and alternative healing content is designed for those seeking to not just enhance their physical, spiritual, and intellectual capabilities, but to fuse them in the knowledge that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.


Desktop, laptop, tablet, phone devices with Gaia content on screens

Discover what Gaia has to offer.

Get instant access to free videos, helpful articles, and exclusive offers.