I read it somewhere
Seems like everyone in the healthcare world is interested in the microbiome. Resourceful authors hoping to attract an audience are…
Seems like everyone in the healthcare world is interested in the microbiome. Resourceful authors hoping to attract an audience are repurposing their previous work so it can include the word “microbiome”. If you have a draft of a book called, say, The Best Diet Ever: How to Lose Weight and Feel Great, you change the title to The Best Microbiome Diet Ever: The Scientific-Sounding Way to Lose Weight and Feel Great.
Microbiome science has a magical combination of features that make it attractive to potential hypesters:
The field is new, and interesting discoveries are announced nearly every day, so you won’t draw skepticism if you can credibly claim some new insight.
Data abounds. Every person is covered in thousands of species (probably a lot more), and the types and varieties change hourly. No matter when or how you take a sample, you’ll find something new.
There really is something there. We are surrounded by gazillions of microbes, many of which have co-evolved with humans and are well-adapted to our bodies. Intriguing relationships have been discovered between microbes and many — maybe most — human conditions, including a plethora of diseases as well as behavior, mood, and cognition — areas you don’t usually associate with infections.
You can change it. Unlike your human genes, the microbiome shifts in response to food, medicine, environment, and many other variables that scientists are just beginning to understand. It really does seem likely that many of the seemingly far-out claims about the microbiome may hold up, eventually.
While this makes me excited about the potential of the microbiome, I’m also wary of over-exaggerated claims. When I read or hear something, my first instinct is to ask “how do you know?”
It turns out that in the majority of cases, when I ask most experts about how they know something specific about the microbiome, the answer essentially amounts to “I read it somewhere”. Oh sure, the better experts will speak more eloquently, pointing to a peer-reviewed study, as if that settles it. But that’s just a fancy way of saying “I read it somewhere”.
Instead, I want to hear somebody say “I know because I tried it myself and it works”. Is that too much to ask?
Here’s an example:
I know somebody who was having sleep troubles. I read somewhere that the body’s sleep hormones are produced mostly by bacteria. Digging deeper I learned that some of those organisms have names and are well-studied enough that it’s known that they prefer particular types of food, of which plain old potato starch is one. Eat a little potato starch mixed with some water and those bacteria, being well-fed, will multiply — and produce more of the sleep hormones you’re missing.
Okay, sounds good. But I don’t want you to stop there. I want the story to continue with “so I tried it myself and sure enough, I slept great!”.
Better yet, show me your actual microbiome test results: demonstrate how you had low levels of the microbe before trying your experiment, and now you have high levels. You don’t have to do a fancy study. You don’t have to run a randomized control trial. Just show that it worked one time, on you.
If you’re a doctor who likes to write books about these things, give me examples of where you used your knowledge of the microbiome to prescribe something that worked, show how you tested the person before/after, and then tell me that the microbiome was the secret.
If you didn’t actually test the person’s microbiome, if you’re just recycling some medical advice that you read somewhere, then why waste your own credibility trying to tie it to the microbiome? Just say “Here are some ideas you may want to try” or “Maybe it has something to do with the microbiome” and leave it at that.
For more of what I’ve learned about the microbiome, see my summary, including my favorite books.