By Dietitian Jill Place
Because the L.A. River used to be this free-flowing reservoir of water swollen by winter rains that willy-nilly changed course and was often a flood risk.
So they boxed it in with concrete. If you remember the Terminator movie where Schwarzenegger speeded straight up the sides of a steep concrete structure to rescue the young John Connor … that was in the L.A. River. But the concrete structure created even more problems.
Lately it’s constantly filled with debris. That have made small islands within it. And these islands are over-populated by all sorts of wildlife … including egrets and all sorts of birds, fish, and other creatures. In other words, the ecosystem of the L.A. River is like an external manifestation of a microbiome.
So What IS the Microbiome?
We’re talking about the HUMAN microbiome here as obviously every living organism has one. The microbiome is the trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites (yes … that’s what I said … parasites) … that inhabit every body part.
The human microbiome consists of the 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells harbored by each person, primarily bacteria in the gut. The microbiome also houses the genetic makeup of the body that these cells protect.
Why is Our Microbiome so Important?
Many projects have been started around the world to fully analyze this often-misunderstood part of ourselves. But anywhere from 20 percent to 60 percent of the organisms that make up the microbiota cannot be cultured and identified with traditional techniques used by microbiologists.
So our National Institutes of Health Human Microbiome Project takes advantage of new technology that can rapidly analyze large samples of genetic material. Thus making it possible to identify the organisms present in these tissues.
Why is this so important? Because a balance of the inhabitants of this microbiome is vitally important for the health of all individuals. Pure and simple … an imbalance can cause inflammation … which can cause an autoimmune condition … which can lead to every diagnosable disease on the planet.
What does it have to do with the L.A. River?
As I said, the L.A. River is not what it was. Huge new ecosystems have arisen overgrown with birds, fish and other wildlife. They’ve always been there … but now they’re different. And some are even gone.
The river is now so tainted that it’s not even the main source of water for the Los Angeles basin anymore. We now get our water from the aqueducts that wind down from Northern California.
Dangerous levels of E. coli and enterococcus were also recently found. So I’m surprised that the indigenous wildlife still exists there. As many of them live on overgrown islands created by runoff and other environmental pollutants.
There used to be beavers there, but now they’re gone … victims of the pollution of the river. The World Wildlife Fund has warned that that fresh water species has declined 76% between 1970 and 2010 … it’s just gone in 30 short years. The L.A. River has been changed forever by human waste, overgrowth, and man-made chemicals.
… We’re Polluted Too …
Just as the L.A. River is polluted, we’ve polluted our bodies almost to the point of extinction. Just as the beavers have disappeared, a meta-analysis of 185 studies done throughout the world found an overall 52.4 percent decline in sperm concentration and a 59.3 percent decline in the total sperm count over a 39-year period.
If that’s not shocking enough for you, 50 million people in the U.S. now have autoimmune disease and it’s #1 most popular health topic requested by callers to the National Women’s Health Information Center. Not only that, conditions like diabetes and heart diseases … once considered discrete issues … are now thought to have an autoimmune, inflammatory link.
Scientists will tell you that these links are complex. But I say that we didn’t have these growing levels of autoimmune issues even 10 years ago. Just as the L.A. river is increasingly polluted, and its environment has radically changed, so has the internal environment of our bodies. Which all begins with the microbiome …
Changing Our Internal Environment …
Our microbiome is in a sad state of affairs. 80% of us have leaky gut, which is the window into all these autoimmune diseases. We’re sicker and sicker … and fatter and fatter. Read my article, Can Obesogens Make You Fat? if you want to know how polluting environmental chemicals are making us fatter.
So most of us have microbiomes that are out of balance … just like the L.A. River. The good news is that we can reverse this condition. Beginning with a change in mindset.
But I have to tell you that mindset change is slow in coming. And may not arrive until some are too sick to reverse it.
I stood on a street corner in Eagle Rock yesterday … not far from the L.A. River … with a woman from my Qigong class. When I told her what I did, she shared with me that she had pre-diabetes. But further questioning revealed that she also had Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis … a rampant autoimmune problem.
“I just want to work on my diet”, she said. And was quick to emphasize that she was taking pills for her thyroid. When I told her that she really needed to address these issues by getting to the root cause of the problem … and that the medicine she was taking might even make her condition worse … I could feel her attention click off. Like an unwanted T.V. program.
I gave her my card … I doubt if she’ll call. The bottom line is that we need to divorce the medical mindset that a pill will set us free first. And then get on with the business of taking responsibility for healing ourselves. But that’s another article for another day …