Sunday, July 29, 2018

Oh šit.., Great Science Gone Bad Leaves Nitwits Fiddling With Their Bowels

nautil-us |  In April 1901, after crossing an unusually calm English Channel, Metchnikoff for the first time exposed his newly formulated theory of aging to the public in the notoriously rainy Manchester. He traveled there to receive the Wilde Medal of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, the first foreigner to achieve this honor. In the society’s compact lecture hall, he delivered an hour‐long lecture in French, “The Flora of the Human Body,” in which he outlined his brand‐new explanation of why we age and die too soon.

The culprit, he announced, was the body’s flora—microscopic organisms inhabiting our internal organs, primarily the large intestine, or colon, the body’s largest microbe container. The idea that waste products in the intestines poison the human body went back at least to ancient Egyptians. In the late 19th century, with the establishment of the link between germs and disease, this belief had gained new validity, turning into a short‐lived obsession among physicians. The contents of the gut were thought to putrefy and release toxins through the action of bacteria.  Physicians were attributing anything from headaches and fatigue to heart disease and epilepsy to these toxins, having their patients swallow disinfecting mixtures containing charcoal, iodine, mercury, or naphthalene to “sterilize” the intestines.

Metchnikoff conceded that intestinal flora could be beneficial too, but most of these microbes, he argued, exert a harmful effect on the body, “and this leads to premature aging of our tissues and organs.”

Lashing out with a bitter invective against the colon, Metchnikoff, as a zoologist and a Darwinist, pointed to the animal origins of human beings. In our evolutionary past, the colon had helped mammals to survive. It contained not only microbes that facilitated the digestion of plant food but also remnants of digested food, enabling the animals to chase prey and escape predators without stopping to empty their bowels. Humans, on the other hand, he said, “derive no benefit from this organ,” particularly since they cook their food, making it easier to absorb. Though the colon was already known to play a role in the absorption of water and minerals, Metchnikoff believed it was less essential in this respect than the stomach or the small intestine. He was certain the colon should have long been eliminated by natural selection, if only the latter were more effective.