How Modern Life Depletes Our Gut Microbes

Compared with Americans' digestive tracts, Yanomamis' teem with life, like a lush, tropical rain forest.

Compared with Americans’ digestive tracts, Yanomamis’ teem with life, like a lush, tropical rain forest.

Maria Fabrizio for NPR

Looks like many of us don’t have the right stomach for a paleodiet. Literally.

Two studies give us a glimpse into our ancestors’ microbiome — you know, those trillions of bacteria that live in the human gut.

And the take-home message of the studies is clear: Western diets and modern-day hygiene have wiped a few dozen species right out of our digestive tracts. One missing microbe helps metabolize carbohydrates. Other bygone bacteria act as prebiotics. And another communicates with our immune system.

In other words, Americans’ digestive tracts look like barren deserts compared with the lush, tropical rain forest found inside indigenous people.

“The concern is that we’re losing keystone species,” says microbiologist M. Gloria Dominguez-Bello, at the New York University School of Medicine. “That’s a hypothesis, but we haven’t proved it.”

Dominguez-Bello and her colleagues are the first to characterize the gut bacteria of people completely isolated from modern medicine, food and culture.

In 2009, her colleagues and a medical team with the Venezuelan government took a helicopter to a remoteYanomami tribe at the border of Venezuela and Brazil. Members of the tribe have lived as hunter-gatherers for more than 11,000 years in a mountainous area of the Amazon rain forest.

The visit was the first time that particular tribe had direct contact with modern society. “They knew about us, but we didn’t know about them,” Dominguez-Bello says. “They had names [in their language] for our helicopters and planes.”

Dominguez-Bello’s colleagues took samples from 12 of the villagers’ fecal matter. Back in New York City, the team used DNA analysis to figure out which species thrived in the hunter-gatherers’ guts.

The biggest surprise was how many different species were present in the Yanomami’s microbiome. The tribe had about 50 percent more ecological diversity than the average American has, Dominguez-Bello and her colleagues reported Friday in the journal Science Advances.

As cultures around the world become more “Western,” they lose bacteria species in their guts, Dominguez-Bello says. At the same time, they start having higher incidences of chronic illnesses connected to the immune system, such as allergies, Crohn’s disease, autoimmune disorders and multiple sclerosis.

“So the big question is: Are these two facts related?” Dominguez-Bello asks. “It’s not clear if more diversity in the microbiome is healthier. But maybe we have lost species with important functions.”

Clearly diet plays a big role in determining which critters hang out in our digestive tracts. “The Yanomami tribe don’t sit down and eat big meals, three times a day, like we do,” Dominguez-Bello says. “They eat a little bit all day long. They just grab a banana when they want. Or go eat some fish soup with plantains.”

But Dominguez-Bello says there’s likely another reason, besides diet, for the diversity in the Yamomami’s GI system: The tribe had never been exposed to antibiotics before the 2009 visit.

“Antibiotics kill bacteria in the gut, and sometimes species don’t come back,” Dominguez-Bello says, “This is especially true with children, whose microbiomes are in the process of getting assembled. Impacts on the microbiome at a young age can have long-lasting consequences.”

But Jens Walter, a microbiologist at the University of Alberta, isn’t convinced antibiotics are the major reason for the bacteria extinctions in Western guts. His data point to a more subtle culprit.

Walter and his collaborators have characterized the gut microbes in two indigenous populations in Papua New Guinea. Unlike the Yanomami tribe, these groups regularly use antibiotics. But they still have high levels of diversity in their microbiomes, Walter and his team reported Thursday in the journal Cell Reports.

The Papua New Guineans’ microbiome had about 47 species that are essentially absent in the Americans they studied. The Americans, on the other hand, had only four species in their microbiome that were missing in the Papua New Guineans.

Sophisticated sanitation and hygiene in Western society might be limiting the species that end up in our guts, Walter and his team report. Bacteria spread more easily from person to person in Papua New Guinea because the communities don’t have sewage systems and clean drinking water.

“Clean drinking water is one of the most important achievements of Western culture,” Walter says. “It prevents the spread of infections, but it also prevents the easy exchange of our microbiomes.”

At the end of the day, though, less diversity in our guts may be a small price to pay for overall good health, Walter says.

“We don’t want to romanticize life in Papua New Guinea,” he says. “They may have much lower incidences of allergies and autoimmune diseases. But they are actually less healthy than people in Western societies. Their life expectancy is lower, and their infant mortality rate is high because of infections and parasites.”

Speaking in Whistles: The Whistled Language of Oaxaca, Mexico

Whistled language is a rare form of communication that can be mostly found in locations with isolating features such as scattered settlements or mountainous terrain. This documentary above shows how Dr. Mark Sicoli, Assistant Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University, conducts field studies among speakers of aChinantec language, who live in the mountainous region of northern Oaxaca in Mexico. The Summer Institute of Linguistics in Mexico has recorded and transcribed a whistled conversation in Sochiapam Chinantec between two men in different fields. The result can be seen and heard here.

U.S. Constitution it’s existing democracy from the Native Americans

 “The Great Law” – Injunuity

Video Explains How the Haudenosaunee Helped America Form

It is well known, at least in American Indian circles, that the U.S. government was modeled partly on the treaties and themes that comprised the Iroquois Confederacy. What better way to kick off Native American Heritage Month than with a video overview and detailed explanation of exactly how that came to pass?

“When settlers arrived in the New World, one of the first cultures they encountered was the Haudenosaunee, a confederation of tribes that had already been practicing representative democracy for hundreds of years,” notes the commentary for Injunuity’s video explaining how it all went down.

“How much influence did that existing democracy have on our Founding Fathers and on documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution? More than you know.”


Mohawk Warriors and those cool haircuts.

Perhaps one of the most known Native American tribes – for a hairstyle are the Mohawks.

Where did Mohawk Warrior haircuts come from?

To address the namesake of the Mohawk people, it goes without saying that we should recognize the haircuts of the warriors preparing to go into battle. History dictates Mohawk warriors cut the sides of their heads with a strip of hair remaining in the familiar shape of today’s Mohawk. This style is also called the scalplock.

What history doesn’t say however is that this was NOT the only style of hair and as in any culture, styles varied. Many warriors did cut their hair, but in various ways such as cut on one side, in front and more.

According to Arnold Printup – who himself sports a scalplock, “Our ancestors wore several styles to their liking. According to our oral traditions one historian said there was a warrior who also had a strip down the middle shaved out. The majority shaved our heads in some way. We valued the length of hair for its strength, spirituality and power,” said Printup.

Warriors shaved heads to protect women and children:

Mohawk Tribal historian Printup also says at a time when scalps were desired by settlers for bounty, Mohawk warriors decided to cut their hair in various ways to make their scalps more desirable to bounty hunters. “It was an in your face bold move as if to dare bounty hunters to seek their scalps. It was a distinction and a way to protect women and children.”

To throw a bit more confusion into the fire, Mohawk author and historian Darren Bonaparte says Mohawk isn’t a Mohawk word, because “M isn’t one of our letters.” Bonaparte says the hairstyle was originally Huron, yet old movies and Mohawk warrior paratroopers shaving their heads on D-Day inspired the namesake attached to the haircut.

Abuela Grillo Rain Maker Medicine Woman

Animated short-film produced in The Animation Workshop in Viborg, Denmark. By The Animation Workshop, Nicobis, Escorzo, and the Community of Bolivians Animators and is supported by the Danish Government. Animated by 8 bolivians animators, directed by a french, music by the bolivian embessador in France, composed by another french, a danish project, hepled for the production by a mexican and german. Adaptaded from mito ayoreo

Six Nations means lacrosse

SIX NATIONS – The Creators Game, is what Haudenosaunee people have called the sport of lacrosse since the earliest of times, long before European contact.

It was French missionaries who named it lacrosse because they felt the sticks resembled the crosier, or le crosse, carried by Catholic bishops.

The Iroquois, Huron, Algonquin and other tribes were already playing the game before first contact. In its beginnings lacrosse was called baggataway and was a wide-open game that was part religious ritual as well as a part of military training.

Six Nations is commonly recognized as the birthplace of the game, tradition says, was given by the Creator to the Haudenosaunee for conflict resolution as an alternative to all out war, as well as for keeping their young warriors in shape in case of conflict.

To the untrained European eye, it looked more like war than sport, with sometimes hundreds of players playing in an open field at the same time flailing each other with wooden sticks.

But the game was quickly adopted by European settlers who added their own rules and formed leagues, ironically, excluding any Onkwehon:we player from participating for many years.

Eventually, these leagues needed stars so Iroquois players were invited to join teams which were dominantly white. Dozens of Six Nations elders played on those teams of the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s and remember their glory days with great pride.

Within Haudenosaunee circles, it was far more than a game or a sport. It was a spiritual experience which some of today’s best Onkwehonwe players still draw inspiration from.

It is for these reasons Six Nations has produced and continues to produce the game’s best players, and within Six Nations it is part of the identity of being Haudenosaunee.

The Creator’s Game has spread far beyond the Haudenosaunee. Today, lacrosse is recognized as the world’s fastest growing sport with teams and high caliber leagues emerging from countries around the world from Africa to Israel, from Viet Nam to Russia.

Early paintings by pioneer artist George Catlin depict Native lacrosse players in action. Catlin travelled extensively among the Onkwehonwe across Turtle Island paining images of life among the original peoples. He died in December of 1872 leaving a legacy of priceless images.

While hockey, football, soccer and baseball have taken a lead role in today’s North America, at Six Nations, lacrosse is still king as evidenced by last season’s remarkable feet. The Sr. A Six Nations Chiefs won their second Mann Cup in a row, the Six Nations Jr. A Arrows Express won the Minto Cup, and the Jr. B Six Nations Rebels won their remarkable fourth Founders Cup in succession, all national titles.

The professional National Lacrosse League and the Canadian Lacrosse League, as well as the Lacrosse Hall of Fame also boast many Six Nations stars of the modern game.

In recent years, women’s lacrosse has emerged as well with National titles in almost every age category. The World Women’s Lacrosse Championship will be hosted in Onondaga New York later this year, and the men’s Iroquois Nationals will compete in the world Men’s Championship this summer in Scotland. Lacrosse is the only sport that recognizes the Haudenosaunee as a Nation on the world stage.