Nope. I refuse to believe that Darth Vader — even a 10-year-old Darth Vader — ever said “yippie!” Among the half-zillion other things that offended me about Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace was the revelation that an aspiring Jedi’s latent fluency with The Force is determined by a good old-fashioned blood test that detects a high concentration of intelligent microorganisms called midi-chlorians that, we’re told, exist inside of all living things like a tiny congregation of wise E. coli.
Hey, George Lucas, if you want to over-explain something that doesn’t need an explanation, why don’t you tell us why an amphibian Jar Jar Binks didn’t shrivel up like a newt on a hot plate within the first five minutes of landing on Tatooine? (But maybe that’s just me wishfully thinking.)
Well, as it turns out, George Lucas may have actually been on to something with the midi-chlorian idea. Associate professor Jane Foster at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and her team of researchers have discovered that communication between bacteria in our bodies and our brains plays a larger part in mental and physical health than previously realized.
“The take-home message is that gut bacteria influences anxiety-like behavior through alterations in the way the brain is wired… We have a hypothesis in my lab that the state of your immune system and your gut bacteria — which are in constant communication — influences your personality,” says Foster.
Genes associated with memory and the learning process in the hippocampi of tested mice are altered by the influence of bowel bacteria, the researchers discovered; their findings are reported in the March issue of Neurogastroenterology and Motility.
This research is of great interest to psychiatrists in search of minimally invasive ways to treat their patients (the side effects of drugs can often be counterproductive to the desired result, after all). This research suggests that taking an indirect approach — treating the gut bacteria in a way that negotiates a positive response from the brain — may very well be possible.
Foster adds: “…we could even use the body to screen patients to say what drugs might work better in their brain… The wave of the future is full of opportunity as we think about how microbiota or bacteria influence the brain and how the bi-directional communication of the body and the brain influence metabolic disorders, such as obesity and diabetes.”
So whether you have ailments that are mental in nature, ailments that are physical in nature, or you’re just trying to get out of a hungry wampa’s refrigerator while your lightsaber’s just a skosh out of reach, The Force will be with you… always. (But Darth Vader still never said “yippie.”)