Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Monique Keiran: It takes guts to look after yourself

Nature Boy sees himself as something of a lone wolf. He prides himself on keeping his own counsel, questioning popular opinion (unless it aligns with his own) and charting his own course. Yet even he has jumped on one marketing bandwagon.
VKA-keiran-7924.jpg
Monique Keiran: Parents everywhere secretly horrify themselves when they hear themselves saying the same things to their kids that their parents lectured them on 30 years earlier.

Nature Boy sees himself as something of a lone wolf. He prides himself on keeping his own counsel, questioning popular opinion (unless it aligns with his own) and charting his own course.

Yet even he has jumped on one marketing bandwagon.

If you don’t manage to avoid every commercial on television these days, you’ve seen them. The spots to “take care of what’s inside” or “take the challenge” or the “Being human takes guts” ads.

The ads urge viewers to “find balance,” eat well, exercise, reduce stress and celebrate the successes and challenges of getting on with daily living. These common-sense messages are neither new nor original. Parents everywhere secretly horrify themselves when they hear themselves saying the same things to their kids that their parents lectured them on 30 years earlier.

Of course, however wholesome the packaging might be, TV commercials exist to sell product. Under the feel-good branding, these commercials’ messages are “buy our yogurt” and “buy our supplements.”

Without making outright health claims, the ads indirectly link the microorganisms in the yogurt and supplements to improved health and well-being.

Nature Boy buys the yogurt, but it’s not clear he has bought into the marketing. Maybe he has been seduced by the ads’ images of slim, shimmying bellies taking the Activia challenge — “If I do as she does, I’ll have a slim, shimmying belly just like that.”

Maybe Nature Boy just likes strawberry-flavoured yogurt.

It’s also possible he has activated his little grey cells. He might have looked at some of the many recent scientific reports and concluded that a healthy, diverse microbial community in the stomach and intestines supports health.

Deciding to eat strawberry-flavoured probiotic-laden yogurt for breakfast is a small step from there. Probiotics are microorganisms that many people believe provide health benefits when consumed. They are the bacteria, yeasts and other microbes that make yogurt yogurt, cheese cheese and sauerkraut sauerkraut — and these days, they’re also big business.

In the past five or so years, researchers have been documenting the diversity, complexity and sheer numbers of microorganisms that live mostly in harmony within and on the human body. Each of us has as many as 100 trillion individual microbes, including more than 15,000 species of bacteria, living in our guts alone.

The bacterial members of this human microbiome are better studied than all the fungi, oocytes, viruses and other single-celled lodgers that live in our alimentary canal, but it seems all these simple life-forms play essential roles in our physical and mental health.

In Nature Boy’s case, some of his trillions of gut microbes help him digest last night’s pizza. Some neutralize poisons he eats. Some keep unruly fellow lodgers from getting uppity and making him sick. Some buy up entire blocks of gut real estate and prevent unwanted newcomers from moving in and sending the whole neighbourhood downhill — quickly and uncomfortably down the loo.

Certain gut bacteria have been linked to lower rates of allergies, asthma, obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Some seem to play a role in depression and other mental-health conditions, and some even might mediate diseases that affect the brain, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Studies have found that certain microbes in the digestive tract are linked to lower rates of Clostridium difficile infection, which is often acquired in hospitals and nursing homes, and to greater resistance to superbugs.

The influence of the gut microbiome on the rest of the body is becoming so evident, some scientists consider the community of microorganisms inside the gut to be another of the body’s vital organs. Although researchers are still trying to understand the precise roles different microorganisms play in our health, some physicians believe the gut microbiome needs to be protected, monitored and cared for like any other organ — the eyes, the skin, the liver, the kidneys, the pancreas and so on.

Which presents interesting prospects for dairy companies and probiotic-supplement manufacturers. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, business abhors an opportunity not taken.

By obliquely referencing the growing body of microbiome health research in finely tuned marketing campaigns, they have managed to convince even a lone wolf like Nature Boy to join the pack in eating yogurt snack packs … all in the name of taking care of what’s inside.