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The Assignment of the Age: Balance and Heal our Internal and External Ecosystems

Our health is deeply intertwined with both our internal biome and the external environments we inhabit. As research continues to show, the microbes that live in and on us (our microbiome) and the environments that surround us (our outer biome) can greatly impact our overall health and wellbeing. Not to leave out the astounding interconnection and relationship to our psychological, emotional, and psychic well-being.


Inside Our Bodies: The Microbiome a prime mover in our foundational relationship to our system

We are home to trillions of microorganisms that make up our microbiome, including bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi. Research over the past couple decades has illuminated how integral our microbiome is linked to many aspects of our health, from digestive health and weight management, to immune function, chronic disease risk, and even mental health (1).


An imbalanced microbiome is called dysbiosis, which has been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disorders, obesity, neurological conditions, and more (2). Dysbiosis can be caused by factors like chronic stress, poor diet, malnutrition, toxins, infections, and antibiotics.


One emerging area of microbiome research is on myasms – multi-species biofilms that can form in various parts of the body when certain microbes cluster together and adhere to surfaces. Some myasms function symbiotically with the host, while others can trigger inflammation and disease (3). Tracking and targeting dysbiotic myasms may become an important therapeutic strategy. And most interestingly the ability to pass myasms down our ancestral line. This points to the possibility that the health of your great great grandfather or the like, may be affecting you body's functioning today.


In addition, the microbiome interacts with our genes (our genome), which can lead to epigenetic changes – chemical modifications that turn genes “on” or “off.” Our environments and behaviors can alter our epigenetics, which affects gene expression and disease risk (4). This illustrates the intricate orchestration between our genes, our microbes, and our environments.


Outside Our Bodies: The External Ecosystem

Just as our inner world shapes our health, so too does the world around us. The external ecosystems we are exposed to – our homes, communities, natural environments, climate and weather patterns – influence our microbiome, epigenetics, disease risk, and overall wellness.


For example, environmental toxins like heavy metals, air pollution, and chemicals can negatively impact gut microbiome diversity and function (5). Cold temperature extremes have been associated with physiological stress responses and impaired immune function (6). Penguin and polar bear microbiomes actually change with the seasons to help adapt to the bitter cold (7). Even living in an urban versus rural area can alter skin and gut microbiome communities (8).


Strategies for Preserving Our Inner and Outer Health

The research makes it clear that protecting both our inner and outer ecosystems is crucial for supporting overall health. Here are some evidence-based strategies:


Inner Ecosystem

  • Consume a diverse, fiber- and plant-rich anti-inflammatory diet to nourish a healthy gut microbiome. Include fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and kefir, unless you test high for histamines. Meat, fish, and eggs are also a rich source of vitamins and minerals in moderation (9).

  • Engage in regular physical activity, which boosts microbiome diversity and improves mental health via the gut-brain axis (10).

  • Manage chronic stress through yoga, mindfulness, therapy, spending time outdoors, or maintaining fulfilling social connections to mitigate inflammation and dysbiosis (11).



Outer Ecosystem

The external environment we occupy daily also matters. Here's how to optimize it:

  • Spend ample time outdoors and in green spaces, which studies show reduces inflammation, chronic disease risk, stress hormones, anxiety and depression (12).

  • Choose chemical-free personal care and home cleaning products whenever possible to avoid toxic exposures. Prioritize fragrance-free as well (13).

  • Consider investing in high quality air and water filtration systems to reduce environmental toxin exposure inside the home. HEPA and activated carbon filtration systems have robust data behind their efficacy (14).

  • If you are healthy, be an advocate. Shift toward more sustainable behaviors, while creating healthy living situations that coincide with a psychologically and emotionally supportive environment. When we feel a state of balance we naturally desire to become conscientious in reducing waste, cutting plastic usage, conserving water, and shifting toward renewable energy sources. Now as we become aware of the layers of cofactors in terms of living aligned in a healthy system. (15)


More that just our physical body. The Gut-Brain Connection: Unresolved Trauma and Inner Ecosystem Imbalance


In addition to the external variables that can disrupt our inner and outer environments, we also need to consider the impact of unresolved psychological and emotional trauma. Studies show that chronic stress, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and psychiatric disorders like PTSD and CPTSD can negatively alter gut microbiome composition and function via the intricately connected gut-brain axis pathway (1).


The gut-brain axis refers to the bidirectional communication network between the emotional and cognitive centers in the brain, the endocrine and central nervous systems, and the intestinal microbiota. This dynamic signaling system relies on neural, endocrine, immune and humoral pathways (2).


Unresolved traumas and chronic mental health disorders can create dysfunction in the gut-brain axis, ultimately leading to inflammation and microbiome imbalances like decreased microbial diversity, disrupted ratios of beneficial to pathogenic bacteria, and the overgrowth of certain microbes (3).



For example, studies on PTSD and depression have found a relative depletion of anti-inflammatory bacterial species and an increase in pro-inflammatory species compared to controls (4). Additionally, introduction of certain probiotic strains in those with psychiatric disorders has been found to help improve psychiatric symptoms, demonstrating the microbiome's influence on mental health (5).


Our health is intimately interwoven with the dynamic equilibrium between our inner and outer worlds and these implications have layers. We must have the ability to expand our vision and collaborate with a diverse teams while surrounding ourselves with an environment that not only feels supportive but actively encourages growth and change. Physically, taking steps to nourish both our inner microbiome and the external environments we inhabit, we can promote sustainable wellness for ourselves and future generations. And we will not have the resilience and energy to cultivate solutions to these multidimensional global issues if we don’t start within and true address and develop a healthy relationship with all of our own parts. It must start with each one of us and our individual health. Without a healthy person who understand their own constitution and has developed ways to self regulate can we will fizzle and fade into further psychological and physical illness and distortions and won’t truly show up for the very real task at hand. Now the assignment of the age.



Sources:

  1. Ghaisas et al. Gut microbiome in health and disease: Linking the microbiome–gut–brain axis and environmental factors in the pathogenesis of systemic and neurodegenerative diseases. Pharmacol Ther. 2016.

  2. Petersen & Round. Defining dysbiosis and its influence on host immunity and disease. Cellular Microbiol. 2014.

  3. Seng et al. Myasms: An overlooked contributor to microbial dysfunction and disease. Gut Microbes. 2020.

  4. Mischke & Płóciennik. The Role of Environmental Exposures during Windows of Susceptibility in Shaping the Human Epigenome. Children. 2021.

  5. Jiang et al. The Gut Microbiome and Environmental Pollution: Connecting the Dots. Trends in Microbiology. 2021.

  6. Laing et al. Cold temperature exposure induces stress responses in children similar to adulthood. Journal of Applied Physiology. 2021

  7. Sullam et al. Changing Antarctic environments and the structure of microbial communities: trends through space and time. FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 2022.

  8. Lax et al. Urbanization and the gut microbiota in health and inflammatory bowel disease. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2021.

  9. Castañer et al. The Gut Microbiome Profile in Obesity: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Endocrinology. 2018

  10. O’Sullivan et al. Gut Microbiome Composition Is Associated with Body Mass Index in Both Health and Disease. mSystems. 2021

  11. McEwen et al. Protective and Damaging Effects of Stress Mediators. New England Journal of Medicine. 1998.

  12. Kuo. How might contact with nature promote human health? Promising mechanisms and a possible central pathway. Frontiers in psychology. 2015.

  13. Steinemann. Ten questions concerning air fresheners and indoor built environments. Building and Environment. 2017.

  14. Chen & Zhao. Review of relationship between indoor and outdoor particles: I/O ratio, infiltration factor and penetration factor. Atmospheric Environment. 2011.

  15. Watts et al. The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: responding to converging crises. The Lancet. 2021

  16. Sherwin et al. The gut microbiome and mental health: Moving past the gut feeling. Current Opinion in Psychology. 2022.

  17. Wang et al. The gut-microbiome-brain axis. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2021.

  18. Adamsson et al. Gut microbiota and mental health in adults with psychiatric disorders: A systematic review. Brain, Behavior, & Immunity - Health. 2022.

  19. Hamilton et al. Alterations of colonic mucosal microbiota in posttraumatic stress disorder. Brain Behavior and Immunity. 2019.





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