Nerd alert: I have a confession... I’m a total science geek and I realize many of you are too, so I’ll be sharing more posts on the science of nutrition + health, and how it all fits within the greater scope of spirituality + “feeding your wild” on all levels ;)
Fact #1: You are more bacterial DNA than you are human DNA
Fact #2: The health of your microbiome (and inner living landscape) determines your health and development of dis-ease or wellness.
There is an increasing amount of research being done on the human microbiome - our commensal bacteria, fungi, and viruses inside and on our bodies. Consider for a moment that microbial DNA in our microbiome outnumbers human DNA significantly (estimates are 10:1 - yes, you are way more bacteria than human DNA folks), and there are known beneficial microbes that perform functions essential for human health and life (for example, synthesis of various vitamins and metabolism). The authors of an article in Nature Immunology suggest that:
“Many of these nutrients and metabolites derived from commensal bacteria have been implicated in the development, homeostasis and function of the immune system, suggesting that commensal bacteria may influence host immunity via nutrient- and metabolite-dependent mechanisms.”
Translation: our immune system cannot function without them... they ARE our immune system.
It’s now known that the environment of one’s gut has a great impact on not just gut health, but disease and wellbeing to a larger degree. The gut microbiome is now seen to play a crucial role in the bidirectional gut–brain axis that integrates the gut and central nervous system (CNS) activities. We are now looking at how our commensal bugs affect our moods, including anxiety and depression, as well as our neuro-immune function.
Our microbiome has an impact on disease development.
Just as there are genetic variations or SNPs of the human genome that may predispose us to certain diseases, the microbiome genome may also predispose the host (that’s us) susceptibility to various diseases such as CNS autoimmune disease (multiple sclerosis). More studies are showing how changes in microbiome, use of antibiotics and probiotics have a correlation with or modulating effect on various disorders.
The metabolism of commensal bacteria provides us with vitamins including B complex vitamins and vitamin K (all necessary for proper functioning of various body processes).
The microbiota also affects the absorption of key minerals, such as iron (which is something I keep note of since I see so many with iron deficiency!). The standard dietary recommendations and guidelines of these vitamins and nutrients for various populations may not be appropriate - depending on not only the genetic profile of the person, but also on the commensal bacterial genome of this person as well.
If that wasn’t enough, there’s something called DNA swapping - a DNA-sharing process, known as horizontal or lateral gene transfer (LGT), which is now understood to occur by the direct movement of DNA between two organisms. Almost all bacterial genomes show evidence of past LGT events, and the phenomenon is known to have profound effects on microbial biology.
Studies suggest that LGT events can and do occur in human tissues, perhaps with devastating consequences. For example, human papillomavirus (HPV) is the cause of 80 percent to 100 percent of cervical cancers.
The virus can integrate into the chromosomes of cervical cells, and if the integration is incomplete, certain HPV proteins can become unregulated, leading to disruption of apoptosis, an increase in cell proliferation, and ultimately cancer.
Same goes for Epstein Barr Virus (EBV) and the unknown numbers of viruses that impact us everyday! While there are known mechanisms that demonstrate the possible deleterious effects of LGT on our health, I’m sure there is an equal amount of beneficial effects - we just don’t have the research or evidence yet...
Certainly we have a long way to go when it comes to applying metagenomics practically in a clinical setting, but the mere discovery of the connection between microbial DNA and our own definitely has me thinking about what would be good for my communal and commensal DNA, not just my own.
There is SO much more to talk about but I’ll leave you with this take-away:
For true health, you MUST tend to your “inner ecology” - your sacred internal garden that provides you with life.
You cannot separate yourself from nature - you ARE nature.
You are only as healthy as your internal landscape, so feed those good bugs what they need to thrive.
In another post, I’ll talk about ways to nourish your inner living ecology for optimal wellness... stay tuned ;)
Brestoff, Jonathan R, and David Artis. "Commensal Bacteria At The Interface Of Host Metabolism And The Immune System". Nature Immunology 14.7 (2013): 676-684. Web. 10 May 2017.
Wang, Yan, and Lloyd H. Kasper. "The Role Of Microbiome In Central Nervous System Disorders". Brain, Behavior, and Immunity 38 (2014): 1-12. Web. 10 May 2017.
"Human Microbiome Project DACC - Home". Hmpdacc.org. N.p., 2017. Web. 10 May 2017.
Franchis, R. (2015). Portal hypertension VI: Proceedings of the sixth Baveno Consensus Workshop: Stratifying risk and individualizing care. Springer.
Robinson, Kelly, and Julie Dunning Hotopp. "Bacteria And Humans Have Been Swapping DNA For Millennia". The Scientist 2016. Web. 10 May 2017.