Elephant Poo and You
The one question I have to field most often is “How did you get started working with probiotics?” It’s not a question limited to strangers. I suppose I heard it first from family and friends who never heard me say in my youth, “I want to work with beneficial bacteria when I grow up.” Like so many things in life, it was fortuitous serendipity. Or just call it luck.
I was reminded of my unusual career choice while reading an article by Ian Frazier in the January 10 issue of the New Yorker. Entitled “Woolly,” it deals with the discovery of the baby wooly mammoth named Lyuba that was frozen so complete in the permafrost that she still had belly hair and a stomach full of forty-two thousand year old lunch! Astounding. But here is the part that caught my eye and made me think of the lecture I attended that eventually resulted in Vidazorb: speaking of Lyuba, Frazier writes, “When she died, she had not yet begun eating solid food; an autopsy revealed that her stomach contained the remnants of milk, and mammoth dung. Elephants, non-extinct cousins of the mammoth, feed dung to their offspring to give them necessary bacteria.” Wow.
Flashback to 1997 or 1998 and I’m somewhere out West sitting in on a lecture given by Dr. Gregor Reid, one of the real guiding lights in probiotic science and research. I knew little about probiotics at that time and was attending a conference as a consultant for an entrepreneur making desserts for people afflicted with celiac disease. As I listened to Dr. Reid give his passionate, informed presentation he said, “And the child must be bathed in the mother’s bacteria as it comes through the birth canal. If that doesn’t happen the child won’t start with all the necessary bacteria. This is why children born by Cesarean section tend to have many more immune problems during their lives.” Again, wow. All five of us, brothers and sisters, were Cesarean births. Five. Myself first, then two brothers who died while still in the hospital and then my two younger sisters. The three of us all have immunity problems of one sort or another. I was in an iron lung (so I’m told) at two with severe pneumonia. My youngest sister had rheumatoid arthritis as a child and many other disorders as she aged; IBS, Crohn’s disease, skin lesions, brain lesions, and the list, sadly, goes on. We knew nothing about the bacteria essential to the immune system and we all, to some degree, suffered because of that.
So, Dr. Reid lectures, the light bulb goes on and I start to research probiotic bacteria. As I’ve said before, wow. The bugs are magic, the bugs are essential and, unless you want to eat elephant—well, you know what I mean. Adequate probiotic bacteria, even the bugs Dr. Reid was lecturing about, were just hard to find once we had left the womb. And though there are more parts to this story, I ended up spending seven years and millions of dollars creating Vidazorb so that people like me and my sisters and, well, Lyuba, could get enough essential probiotic bacteria every day to keep us healthy.
The story in the New Yorker about Lyuba can be found here.
Information about Dr. Gregor Reid and his work can be found here.
And always remember, You Are What You Absorb (more on that later).