The Human Superorganism:
Published by Dutton Publishing, 2016.
Available in Hardcover, Audible, Kindle, Apple Books, and Google Play Books from $12.99 to $24.00.
352 pages or 10 hours and 19 minutes of listening time.
reviewed by John Duke
To be honest, I did not read this book. I listened to it, twice. I also watched the author present the book on a Youtube video dated November 2016, titled “Dietert, Human Superorganism” from Albert R. Mann Library. Rodney Dietert, PhD, is a professor at Cornell University in Ithica, NY. He has also authored Strategies for Protecting Your Child’s Immune System and Immunotoxicity, Immune Disfunction, and Chronic Disease. In 2015 he received the James G. Wilson award from the Teratology Society for the best paper of the year on the microbiome. In 2014 he appeared in the award winning documentary “Microbirth”.
Although this book is four years old, in a very readable way Dietert presents an epidemic of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) that are being addressed by a conventional system of medicine that looks at these NCDs individually, treating only the symptoms. This still seems to be the case in 2020. NCDs would include diseases that are not contagious and develop over time, like asthma, autism, Alzheimer’s, allergies, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and even some kinds of depression. By looking at the similarities of many of the NCDs, Dietert has found one common dysfunction, an incomplete human organism.
Some of the statistics he presents in 2016 are that 75% of deaths, globally, are results of NCDs. This number has increased dramatically since the 1970s. This costs 48% of the global GDP. Also, 45.3% of US adults, 65 and older, have two or more NCDs. The statistics of our globalized current affairs and a paper topic challenge of doing one thing to make people healthier brought Dietert to his “Complete Self” hypothesis and the writing of this book. The cells in our bodies are 55% to 90% microbial. When we look at our own genes, we find that our body only comprises 1% mammalian genome, the remaining 99% of the genes in our own bodies are microbial. This microbiome acts as a second brain, controlling serotonin, dopamine, GABA, catecholamines, and acetylcholine. It regulates hepatic metabolizing enzymes and matures our immune system. Our microbiome produces epigenetic regulators. Dietert believes that our microbiome should be viewed as an organ and when it is not developed properly, it results in a birth defect. Viewing an incomplete microbiome as a birth defect could attract more attention to the problem.
Through the book, Dietert presents some history as to how we have come to our current epidemic with NCDs through defective microbiomes, as well as actions to restore the microbiome. The most powerful positive actions come from the food we eat and the microbes we expose ourselves to. He speaks of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are the addition of beneficial microbes that you may be lacking and prebiotics are the foods that the microbes need. This is where this book becomes fascinating. Are we having cravings for particular foods, or are the microbes in our gut expressing the craving, sending the craving through our Vagus nerve, and it shows up on our brain as a thought that we feel is our own? Who is really driving the bus? I love paradigm shifts. As in Michael Pollen”s book The Botany of Desire, did we cultivate the Apple or did the apple tree persuade us to cultivate the Apple with its delicious fruits? Do we owe our evolution to bacteria and fungi? It is becoming quite clear that our health is directly related to their presence in us and on us. Could they have nudged our evolution to provide them greater mobility. Are we just vehicles for them? Who is the driver and who is the bus? Can we be humble enough to be a bus?
The similarities that Dietert makes between the gut microbiome and human health are very similar to the relationships between the soil microbiome and plant health that many in the regenerative farming space are making today. The paradigm shift that is happening with the regenerative farming mindset regarding soil biology seems to be ahead of the medical field and the way doctors value the human microbiome. Could the solution to the NCD epidemic lie within the farming community: healthy soil, healthy food, healthy guts? Dietert states in the referenced YouTube video that the “goal is to become master gardeners of our own body”. I do believe that farmers are humble enough to let the microbes drive the bus, are doctors? Dietert seems to be. He also states in the YouTube video that half of the work he has done in his 30+ years in toxicology was wrong. Professors don’t usually admit they are wrong.
The weakest area of the book may be in the solutions that Dietert offers. Dietert’s solutions to the failing microbiome are somewhat vague. In his defense, it is a complicated problem that has no single answer or approach. Four years later, he may have more to present for solutions. In my opinion, many of his solutions do not promise shareholder wealth and thus do not receive research money. I don’t think you can patent a microbe or healthy celery. He does give ideas about rebiosis, which will be different for each individual much like indigenous microbes are suited for their regions. Dietert also presents his own experience of fighting disease with proper nutrition from whole foods and probiotics. This is what he terms “rebiosis” of the body.
The human super organism is a very readable look at our microbiome and its role in completing our whole organism to attain and maintain health. Anyone involved in regenerative farming can easily see the similarities between our microbiomes and the soil’s microbiome and how this results in health. Turns out that the “super” part of the human organism is the 99% that is microbial, not human. It may be more important now, in a COVID-19 frightened world that may be increasingly germaphobic and looking for chemical and pharmaceuticals solutions, to be aware and educate on the value of microbes and how they actually complete us. What if the hard work, insight, and awareness of microbes by Rodney Dietert leads to the rebiosis of many human super organisms? What if this then leads to the rebiosis of an earth super organism? Heck, that could be contagious.