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How Zombies Exist

“So I have a theory as to why zombies are able to walk and ‘live,’ so to speak. I can’t even explain their particular smell. Yep, they have a particular smell. I have had this theory for a while, and at every Halloween party, I try to explain my theory to people who will listen. Unfortunately, my geeky and academic explanation only serves to produce a temporary glassy-eyed zombie smiling back at me trying to figure a way out of the conversation. So a few years ago I decided to write down my theories. Here is a synopsis, with references.

Zombies exist… The movies do not have it completely right but they do come close. In order for you to understand my theory, I need to explain who we are normally as humans. As a geneticist, I know that at birth we are 99.9% human by genotype. That is, the genes we carry in and on our bodies are mostly human. By the time we die we are 90% bacteria.[1] After we are born we begin to colonize bacteria in our gut and on our body. Who we become as we age depends on how our bodies are colonized by bacteria, viruses, and other types of bugs. By the time we turn 2, we pretty much know what the bacteria in our bodies will look like for the rest of our lives.[2] This development is so specific that the pattern of bacteria each person has in their gut is almost like a fingerprint, specific to each individual.[3] We know this through kissing studies….really! Look it up! [4]

The development of a proper gut bacteria is important for us as humans and for this to happen in a very specific way. Normally for us to be able to digest certain foods and make certain vitamins we need particular bacteria in our bodies. Bacteria even help us manage our moods. This balance of bacteria is called our microbiome and the government has a specific organization studying human gut microbiome.[5] Your gut microbiome even has memories![6]

Another thing you need to understand is that we have 2 brains. Yep, we actually have 2 brains (no man jokes here please, this is serious). Most people understand we have the central nervous system (CNS) that contains the brain in our skull and the spine down our back that sends signals to our body. The second brain is located in our gut. Yep, the gut has an intricate system of nerves called the Enteric Nervous System (ENS) that allows the gut to communicate with our CNS. It is called the gut-nervous connection.[7] If you cut the nerve that helps connect the ENS with the CNS your gut muscles and memories will continue to work allowing your gut to move and digest, and “think” for itself. It’s true! Look at the references here. [8]

A final bit of information that will help you understand my theory: If you are an adult reading this you normally have about 3 to 5 pounds of total bacteria in and on your body working to help keep you healthy and alive. That bacteria have a total of well over 150 times the amount of genes than the total number of human genes in your body. There is a very powerful metabolic interplay between the gut bacteria and their human host[9]. There is a very particular balance of bacteria in your body that makes you human. If that balance is disturbed it is called “dysbiosis.” Dysbiosis can be a simple diarrhea caught while travelling to a foreign country or a long term imbalance that causes you not to be able to make a certain vitamin or allow your gut lining to normally absorb food and nutrients that you need to be human.[10] Which leads me to my theory on zombies:

Scientists have not discovered all the types of bacteria and viruses we have in our bodies normally. Not even close.[11] The cinema wants you to believe that a foreign bacteria or virus infects us to turn you as a human into a zombie. That cannot be correct. My theory is that the virus/bacteria that make a zombie a zombie is already in our system. I also theorize that not everyone can become a zombie. That there is a special set of dormant genes that are passed down in certain families that get turned on and cause a cascade of events turning that person into a zombie. I believe when that normal microbiome balance gets disrupted that person begins the transformation into the walking dead. I think that a very particular set of zombie transformation genes gets turned on and the very particular pattern of bacteria and viruses take over the second brain and eats away and cuts off the central nervous system. The second brain, the ENS, takes over the muscles and allows the person to become the “Walking Dead.” I base my theories on real science and experimentation (note all the references!). I also have theories on why Zombies smell the way they do and why the movies have it wrong on how to kill a zombie.


Doctor Gonzalez, Mad Scientist Geek”

If you or someone you know wants to learn more about how to be your healthiest self with a medical nutrition in Silver Spring, MD, contact Atlantis Medical Wellness Center for a consultation with a wellness doctor.


[1] Arumugam M, et al. Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome. Nature 2011;473:174-180

[2] Duca F. et al. Metabolic interplay between gut bacteria and their host. Front Horm Res. (2014) vol 2 pp 73-82

[3] Turnbaugh PJ, et al. (2010) Organismal, genetic, and transcriptional variation in the deeply sequenced gut microbiomes of identical twins. Poc Natl Acad Sci 107, 7503-7508

[4] Remco K et al.Shaping the oral microbiota through intimate kissing. Microbiome. Nov 2014. 2:41.

[5] https://commonfund.nih.gov/hmp/index

[6] Barnaby DD Psychological Science December 2010vol. 21 no. 12 1835-1844

[7] Lomax AE, Fernandez E, Sharkey KA. Plasticity of the enteric nervous system during intestinal inflammation. Neurogastroenterol Motil 2005; 17: 4–15

[8] Grundy D. 5-HT System in the Gut: roles in the regulation of visceral sensitivity and motor functions. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci.2008 Aug;12 Suppl 1:63-7.

[9] Duca F. et al. Metabolic interplay between gut bacteria and their host. Front Horm Res. (2014) vol 2 pp 73-82

[10] Tap J, et al. Towards the human intestinal microbiota phylogenetic core. Environ Microbial 2009;11:2574-2584

[11] Wu GD, et al. Linking long term dietary patterns with gut microbial enterotypes. Science 2011.;334:105-108