The understanding of this principle which is known as Interdependent and interrelated has as an aim the transformation of a person’s view of the world and life. Let’s explore how this concept plays out in our bodies.
Most of us think our body’s fuel comes from the food we eat, which our digestive tract breaks down to produce energy. That’s partially correct. To be of real use, our digested food must be converted further into a form of energy our cells can use. For humans, that form of energy is a compound called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is to our cells what gasoline is to a car—it’s the fuel that keeps us running. However, that ATP is made in the cells by symbionts called Mitochondria. Symbiont means a type of close and long-term interaction between two different biological organisms and both of the organism entirely depend on each other for survival The mitochondria have their own DNA different from ours and there is an interdependent and interrelated relationship. We provide them nutrients to live and reproduce and they provide us energy (ATP) to power all of the myriad biological processes in our bodies.
So just how important are mitochondria?
Well, they produce more than 90 percent of the energy for the cells in which they reside, supporting cellular structure, regeneration, and growth. Without the mighty mitochondria, you would not be here.
We all tend to think of our bodies as solid objects. The “I” that is you is solidly rooted in your head and your body is separate from the environment you interact with. Let’s explore this separate and solid view of ourselves, which has been entrenched in the human consciousness for centuries with the advent of the scientific revolution Yes, we may appear solid but ultimately we’re comprised of communities that live in us, on us and comprise a large portion of us.
The average human is composed of approximately 30 trillion cells (30 x 1012), give or take a couple trillion based on size, sex, and age. (1) However, returning to our discussion on the mitochondria, those symbionts that product most of the energy and have their own DNA, their numbers are fairly amazing. For example, each skin cell on average will contain approximately 100 mitochondria per cell. A heart cell (cardiocyte) may contain from 5000 to 8000 mitochondria/cell all continuously producing energy to drive the expansion and contraction of your heart. Muscles contain from 1000 to 2000 mitochondria/cell. Your brain, eyes, liver, and lungs also contain high concentrations of mitochondria.
Using an average of 1000 mitochondria/cell and based on the average number of human cells 30 x 1012 approximately 30 quadrillion (30 x 1013) cells are mitochondria and are not you. Well, they are your buddies as they produce most of your energy and you supply them the nutrients to live. Hold on, it does not end here, there are more residents living on and in you.
Your gut alone hosts about 30 trillion bacteria. (2) Thousands of different species carve out their own little niches, nestled among folds of your intestines. The colon, which forms most of the length of the large intestine, provides homes for microbes, residing in the folds and pits of the microvilli of its walls. This entire community of “others” is called the microbiome and refers to all of the organisms that live in or on your body: all of the bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, as well as all of their genes.
Part of this microbiome is all the bacteria that live on your skin surface, in your mouth, your sinuses, your lungs, breast glands, genitals, and lungs all providing benefits. For example, bacteria on your skin act as the bodies first line of defense against opportunistic pathogens. These skin bacteria are very territorial, and they don’t want any other bacteria to try and colonize their territory. These skin bacteria have their own defenses to exclude opportunistic bacteria and additionally, they can enlist the skin’s own immune response (your immune system) to help defend their territory (your territory).
Notice I move back and forth between the bacteria’s territory and your territory. In these types of interrelated and interdependent relationships, it can become difficult to lay claim to anything. Your sense of “I” ness can become a little less solid as you understand that in reality you are a superorganism, a cooperative community of organisms all working to ensure your health and wellbeing.
Together, the microbes and mitochondria living on and in the human body contain over 6 million genes. These genes collaborate in running our bodies alongside our 21,000 human genes. Collaborate is the operative term as some of the bacteria in your gut produce essential amino acids which are the building blocks for neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, others assist in making the B vitamins, other bacteria drive the immune response to kill pathogenic viral, and bacterial infections. Finally, there is direct communication occurring with your brain/consciousness. Brain… this is your gut calling…we need something sweet today maybe a little chocolate.
Totaling all of these cell populations, an estimate can be made that for every one cell that is you there are ten to twelve cells that are not you, all living an interdependent and interrelated relationship within “you”. What we are learning is that within us and the planet we live on, all life is interconnected and interdependent, that we live in a matrix of life, and this realization challenges one of the Western culture’s central foundations. “One so universal it is essentially invisible. It is an early Iron Age idea expressed in a Bible verse, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the Earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the Earth.’” (Genesis 1:28)
This assumption has been the unspoken cultural meme of human societies for centuries. Its corollary is that humans live on the Earth and have dominion over it. Even people who are atheists still carry this lingering cultural meme, like social DNA. We are a special category of being somehow separate from the world upon which we live. It justifies our culture’s unrepentant extractive practices, whether it concerns the living beings of the ocean, or coal from beneath our mountains.” (3)
One can argue that many of our modern diseases—obesity, autism, mental illness, digestive disorders, allergies, autoimmune afflictions, and even cancer—have their root in our failure to understand our most fundamental and enduring relationship with our microbiome.
Now that you have some understanding of the mitochondria and the microbiome and their importance to your health and long life, it may be of interest as to what you can do to support term.
For your Mitochondria
- Mitochondria need oxygen to complete the production of ATP. A sedentary lifestyle or sitting at your desk all day does not support that.
- You get more ATP out of good quality fats rather than sugars and refined carbohydrates. The amount is striking for example for every 1 unit of sugar you get 2 units of ATP, whereas for every 1 unit of fats you get approximately 32 units of ATP.
- Mild exercise is important (if you are doing vigorous exercise great). Exercise drives mitochondria biogenesis (creation of new mitochondria) and mitophagy (destruction of old and damaged mitochondria).
For your Microbiome
- Our consumption of fiber has drastically fallen in western society with the advent of agribusiness and highly refined processed foods. Fiber is used by the large intestines to produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA) which is fundamental to our immune support, blood sugar control (diabetes) and used as an alternative fuel source for the mitochondria. Eat more (a lot more) fiber.
- Avoid broad-spectrum antibiotics. Antibiotics kill the pathogenic as well as the beneficial bacteria. If you need to take an antibiotic have your Dr. run a test to identify an antibiotic for the specific pathogen.
- Avoid antibacterial soaps and cleaners. Hey, wake up we live in a world of bacteria, we are covered in bacteria, we are essentially the guest on the bacteria’s world. The whole concept of eradicating bacteria needs a complete revision which would allow a new era of medicine to emerge, one that understands our interdependent and interrelated relationship with the bacteria.
Let me leave you with a couple of questions to consider. Do you think this interrelated and interdependent relationship exists solely within the confines of your body? What is your relationship to these communities which is part of you? For example, I don’t think about it or the microbes are germs to be eradicated? Finally, does this interrelated and interdependent relationship extend beyond your body? If so, how far does it extend and what is included?
These types of questions are known as deconstructive dialogues which help us identify rigid beliefs and misconceptions and move us into greater openness in our life—bringing us to a life in which our experience is freer of feelings, thoughts, perception, and interpretations that limit us.
3 Schwartz, S.A. (2017). The Unseen Force that Shapes the World. EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing 13