I’ve always envied people with command over their own bowels. Some people can go sit over a toilet, and their bowels will obediently begin their undulating sphincter rhythms to void their contents. That is as incredible to me as having conscious control over your own heartbeat.
Bowel movements for people like me happen at the evil stinky whim of our gut-minds. The bowel will retain its putrid load until it feels like discharging it, defying my orders even when commanded by the brain it to do its job. And it will insist on disgorging its foul contents whenever it wants to, no matter how inopportune a time it may be. If I’m unable to comply with its demands, if I have no choice but to forcibly restrain its efforts, it will take revenge with a series of spasms and contractions, and it will voice its complaints with horrible bubbles of fetid gas.
“In contrast to the remainder of the peripheral nervous system … the enteric nervous system does not necessarily follow commands it receives from the brain or spinal cord; nor does it inevitably send the information it receives back to them. The enteric nervous system can, when it chooses, process data its sensory receptors pick up all by themselves, and it can act on the basis of those data to activate a set of effectors that it alone controls. The enteric nervous system is thus not a slave of the brain but a contrarian, independent spirit in the nervous organization of the body. It is a rebel, the only element of the peripheral nervous system that can elect not to do the bidding of the brain or spinal cord.”
—Michael Gershon, The Second Brain
“Pooping is the orgasm of the butt hole,” a friend once told me. His words have stuck with me over the years.
As a male, I don’t have a large a large opening in my body lined with massive bundles of erogenous nerves. As such, I can’t closely compare the euphoria of passing a satisfying stool to sex—but I would say that of the most pleasurable bodily feelings a human can have, pooping is probably number two. Pun very much intended.
This isn’t just about pooping, really. What’s really fascinating to me is the long tube that runs through our bodies, regulating what parts of what we eat will be integrated into our bodies, lined with so many nerve cells that it constitutes its own nervous system.
The inside of your esophagus, stomach, intestines, and bowels are actually the outside of your body. The sugars, proteins, fats, electrolytes—none of this stuff is part of your body until it crosses the lining of this mucosal labyrinth into the bloodstream. Your body is a club and the intestine is the bouncer.
The use of a cavity with selectively permeable walls for digestion goes way back to the beginning of animal evolution. It’s more or less unique to animals, so no other organisms get to experience this sort of interaction with their environment. (I sometimes imagine plants to experience orgasmic pleasure when sunlight hits their leaves, but that doesn’t make sense at all.)
Interacting with us in this cavity are trillions of bacteria: our cousins, billions of years removed. Without them, our body’s digestion strategy would not work. Our relationship with our gut bacteria is so complex that we’re just beginning to understand it.
- Worldwide, people generally have one of three gut bacteria profiles.
- Experiments on mice suggest that gut bacteria affect learning, memory, and anxiety/depression.
- A feedback loop between our cells and bacterial cells regulates bacterial populations.
Some doctors are even doing research into the use of fecal bacteriopathy for the purpose of treating anxiety and depression. That’s an amazing though to me: the idea that you can feel better about life by sticking someone else’s poo up your ass in order to acquire nice microbes that will whisper sweet things to your brain through your nervous system.
I think about the antibiotics that swept through my intestines as a child and throughout my life, all the sterilized foods I ate, the disagreeable dairy products (especially cheese, which I will probably never eat again)—and then I think about my lack of control over my rebellious guts, and the pain and suffering that I’ve endured because of it—and I feel pretty sure that there’s a connection there.
The peak of my bad relations with my guts was when I developed hemorrhoids at 22. Hemorrhoids, those painful little fuckers, are the only proof a creationist should ever need that our bodies were not designed. Mine were the result of a terrible diet consisting of way too much dairy, lack of exercise, and probably dehydration caused by marijuana use. Not a great time in my life.
(Interesting side note: when the doctor told me about drinking more water, he mentioned that people in the desert/dry states actually have larger assholes than people from the mid-west and east coast because our shits are of a higher caliber. It’s a medical fact.)
People can search all they like for the perfect diet, but I doubt there is such a thing. I don’t think there was some paleolithic golden age of human digestion in which we ate only what we were “meant” to. Since our ancestors ventured out of the trees and onto the savannah, our evolution has lagged slightly behind us. Our digestive system is actually pretty adaptable and omnivorous compared to most other animals. This gave us a huge edge in spreading across the globe.
All this isn’t to say that I’m not going to experiment with paleo-esque eating. The downsides are nil and the potential benefits are huge. All I’m saying is not to expect me to give up bread, sushi, or beer.
I’ll have to end it there because I just cleaned the bathroom, and my hypochondria is telling me that the chemicals in the completely non-toxic cleaners I used have gone to my brain and made me stupid.
That, or I’m not exactly sure how to end this entry because I didn’t even have a premise to begin with. Since it has no real beginning and no ending, I’ll just have to hope this entry was good as a big fat middle of something.
Sorry, my brain cells are undergoing a psychosomatic mass die-off.