Image © Andrew Wyton
Scientific studies have proven that eating a diverse and probiotic-rich diet leads to healthier gut bacteria. But what effect does exposing oneself to different environments have on the gut microbiome? We live in a clean world but should we not? Should we get dirtier to get healthier?
We come into this world with a certain microbiome makeup influenced by our genes and delivery method. Once here, our environment – diet, culture, geography, hygiene, antibiotic usage – changes our microbiota over a lifetime. And any imbalance (dysbiosis) between the gut microbiota and the body affects our mental and physical health, increases our susceptibility to issues like obesity, malnutrition, inflammatory bowel diseases, neurological disorders, and cancer.
We have worked hard to create a sanitized world with the plethora of products we use to clean everything from our bodies to our clothes to our homes, cars, dogs, etc. Urbanization, industrialization of agriculture, pollution, and the modern lifestyle, coupled with the loss of direct contact with nature/outdoors, has depleted the richness of our microbiota. Children today are rarely encouraged to go out and play in the dirt/mud. This disconnection between the person and the environment has resulted in decreased gut bacterial variety and increased diseases, when compared to our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
- Soil and the human gut contain approximately the same number of active microorganisms. Comparative studies between urban and rural populations show that exposure to diverse environmental microbiota in daily life increases the diversity in the gut and decreases the risk of diseases.
- Another study proved that even brief contact with organic gardening materials increases and diversifies the skin bacterial community.
- Studies on mice have revealed that those exposed to biodiverse soil dust molecules had more butyrate-producing bacteria in their gut – these bacteria moderated anxiety-like behaviour in the most anxious mice.
- Development of the human immune system needs exposure to diverse environmental microbiota to avoid disorientation toward recognizing endogenous human proteins (i.e., autoantigens) or harmless particles, such as pollen or food allergens.
- World Allergy Organization has proposed that loss of biodiversity is linked to loss of microbial diversity, resulting in microbial deprivation and inflammatory disorders.
We spend more time indoors and in routines that completely disconnect us from mother nature. By diversifying our exposure to different outdoor environments and breathing in and interacting with new ecosystems, we can deepen our health root. Variety is key; the greater the diversity, the healthier the microbiome.
To add abundance and varied bacteria, he recommends we:
- Explore, travel, and breathe in as many environments as we can
- Walk barefoot on the earth
- Pet the dog
- Eat low on the food chain, directly from the garden or locally grown
- Eat wild fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, etc.
But it is wise to be wary of the quality of the environment we expose ourselves to; the use of diverse environmental microbiota to bolster the body immunity must be done safely. In urban conditions, along with beneficial effects, soil and dust exposure are known to cause diseases due to abundance of pathogens; the level of these pathogens is relatively lower in a rural environment. In farms that use large quantities of chemical fertilizer and practice monocropping, the soil biodiversity might be low and exposure to this environment may not benefit us much. We are nourished by food that is produced in such farms and we should argue for agricultural practices that promote sustainable soil use and human health.
Just like rainforests are present and similar in different parts of the world but still have unique species that independently evolved in that environment, the guts of healthy and unhealthy people around the world are similar but the specific species of bacteria might be specifically tied to the environments that we live in every day. Once a gut biome has been devastated by antibiotics, it needs helps re-building. Introducing good bacteria requires a fiber-rich diet, supplemented with probiotics, prebiotics, fermented foods in diet, and exposure to different ecologies.
We already know that we are what we eat; now we also know that we are where/how we live. So, get out there and connect with nature, breathe in different environments, go for a walk in the park, touch different plants and soil, eat food grown in biodiverse soil, and feel the best you can feel.
Booch offers several fermented products in addition to our signature kombucha and jun drinks to help you strengthen your gut biome, and they are all made with fresh, organic ingredients sourced from local farmers.