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Emerging interconnections of Ayurveda and Microbiomics

One can say that in the field of Micro­bi­ol­o­gy, dis­cov­er­ing the micro­bio­ta pro­file of humans has been a mon­u­men­tal break­through since Louis Pas­teur times. Each one of us is a super­or­gan­ism with a host of microor­gan­isms form­ing a major part of us. These tiny microor­gan­isms work in tan­dem to make this giant homo-sapi­en species up and run­ning. They inter­op­er­ate among them­selves and are high­ly inter­ac­tive and respond to eco­log­i­cal cues too. The Human Micro­bio­me Project for exam­ple tries to chart the types of microor­gan­isms and their vari­a­tions with the place of occur­rence in the human body and their den­si­ty. The project devel­ops a micro­bio­ta pro­fil­ing of sorts for our species inclu­sive of region, eth­nic­i­ty, occu­pa­tion etc., The human micro­bio­me con­sists of 10–100 tril­lion sym­bi­ot­ic micro­bial cells, pri­mar­i­ly bac­te­ria in the gut. Com­pared cell-wise, the microbes liv­ing on and in the human body out­num­ber the human cells by a fac­tor of 1.3:1 with a total mass of about 1–3% of the body they inhib­it (for a 60-kg per­son that would be 0.6 ‑1.8 kg) [1]. These microbes inhab­it all parts of our body which are exposed to the envi­ron­ment such as the mouth, vagi­na, uro­gen­i­tal tract, skin, air­ways and gut.

The Second Brain:

Inter­est­ing­ly, our micro­bio­me pro­file is what makes us unique so much so that our human genet­ic diver­si­ty pales in com­par­i­son with that of the micro­bio­me cat­a­logue. In fact, a new-born baby is actu­al­ly ster­ile with only it’s mother’s com­men­sal bac­te­ria sig­na­ture added to its body dur­ing birth and breast­feed­ing. But lat­er devel­ops a unique micro­bio­me pro­file through con­tact as it is con­tin­u­ous­ly exposed to par­ents, grand­par­ents, sib­lings, pets and gen­er­al­ly the envi­ron­ment around which is crowd­ed with bac­te­ria. As the infant becomes one year old the micro­bio­me, becomes one of the most com­plex ecosys­tems in the world, matures to an adult sta­tus. The micro­bio­me diver­si­ty is also known to increase with time.

Post one year of age nutri­tion starts to play a major role in the devel­op­ment and sus­te­nance of an appro­pri­ate micro­bi­ot­ic ecosys­tem in each indi­vid­ual. Research points that even in infants there were sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences between for­mu­la-fed and breast-fed in their gut micro­bio­ta which changed sub­stan­tial­ly with every new diet intro­duc­tion.

The human-gut which is con­sid­ered as the sec­ond brain due to the num­ber of neu­rons present aid­ing in func­tions of diges­tion, absorp­tion, assim­i­la­tion and excre­tion is also a sin­gle point source where the major­i­ty of the micro­bio­ta are locat­ed. The gut-brain-axis cor­re­lates func­tion­al­i­ties of the gut and brain and elu­ci­dates how they work in tan­dem. 3.3 mil­lion genes are report­ed to exist, com­pared to 22,000 genes present in the human genome. Human indi­vid­u­als are 99.9% iden­ti­cal to each oth­er in terms of their own genome, where­as the micro­bio­me of each indi­vid­ual can be 80–90% dif­fer­ent from one anoth­er [1]. Thus it is an emerg­ing con­crete con­clu­sion that what we eat deter­mines who we become in not just the phys­i­o­log­i­cal but also the psy­cho­log­i­cal sense.

The Ayurvedic View:

In the Indi­an tra­di­tion­al sys­tem of med­i­cine and holis­tic health, Ayurve­da cat­e­goris­es indi­vid­u­als based on nat­ur­al states called as prakri­ti. Prakri­ti is genet­i­cal­ly deter­mined, cat­e­goris­ing the pop­u­la­tion into sev­er­al sub­groups based on phe­no­typ­ic char­ac­ters like appear­ance, tem­pera­ment and habits. The con­cept is claimed to be use­ful in pre­dict­ing an individual’s sus­cep­ti­bil­i­ty to a par­tic­u­lar dis­ease, prog­no­sis of that ill­ness and selec­tion of ther­a­py [2]. Prakri­ti clas­si­fi­ca­tion is a robust frame­work which is acco­moda­tive of indi­vid­ual vari­a­tions.

The prakri­ti clas­si­fi­ca­tion of an indi­vid­ual is based on the pre­pon­der­ance of cer­tain “doshas”. There are 3 main doshas pre­scribed in ayurve­da viz. vata, pit­ta and kapha. These indi­vid­ual doshas are noth­ing but a com­bi­na­tion of the five ele­men­tal fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples man­i­fest­ed across all of this cre­ation oth­er­wise called the pan­chama­hab­hutas (ether/space, wind, fire, water and earth). Vata dosha a com­bi­na­tion of wind and space is respon­si­ble for move­ment (mus­cu­lar, ner­vous ener­gy etc.). Pit­ta dosha, the one respon­si­ble for metab­o­lism, includ­ing diges­tion in the gut, and cel­lu­lar or sub-cel­lu­lar metab­o­lism is a com­bi­na­tion of fire and water. Kapha dosha made of water and earth ele­ment is the “ana­bol­ic”, syn­thet­ic dosha, respon­si­ble for growth and main­te­nance of struc­ture. Based on the pre­dom­i­nance of indi­vid­ual doshas, there are three major types of prakri­ti named after pre­dom­i­nant dosha, viz., vata, pit­ta and kapha. The prakri­ti is believed to be deter­mined at the time of con­cep­tion and is influ­enced by the milieu inte­ri­or of the womb and the dietary habits and lifestyle of the moth­er [3]. These prakri­tis exhib­it attrib­ut­es of the dom­i­nant Dosha in phys­i­cal, phys­i­o­log­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics. Swasthya or good health is the result of main­te­nance of an equi­lib­ri­um among these 3 doshas. The dis­tur­bance of these doshas can lead to dis­ease accord­ing to the prakri­ti of the per­son for exam­ple; a pit­ta prakri­ti per­son is described to be more prone to pep­tic ulcers, hyper­ten­sion, and skin dis­eases, a vata prakri­ti per­son to back­ache, joint aches and crack­ing joints while indi­vid­u­als with kapha prakri­ti are prone to obe­si­ty, dia­betes and ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis

Recent Developments:

The Indic view of human exis­tence has always been that of sim­i­lar­i­ties between the uni­ver­sal and indi­vid­ual life cycles. That is we as a species oper­ate in tan­dem with that of our inter­act­ing envi­ron­ment and both of which co-evolves. The fun­da­men­tal principle(atman) is seen as that oper­at­ing intel­li­gence which sus­tains this cre­ation and none of the man­i­fes­ta­tion is seen as an-atman (non-liv­ing). Along these lines one can under­stand that through the new found under­stand­ing of sci­ence of micro­bio­mics ‚where an indi­vid­ual human being is seen as a super­host of tril­lions of micro­bial cells which oper­ate itself as a unit of cre­ation or as an organ them­selves, there is a lot cor­re­la­tion and inter-con­nec­tions that can be made with the life sci­ence of ayurve­da. Micro­bio­mics research reit­er­ates the fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of ayurve­da empha­sis­ing on the fact that for cre­at­ing a healthy gut envi­ron­ment an indi­vid­ual has to main­tain the indi­vid­ual-spe­cif­ic micro­bio­me.

In this light, recent­ly there emerged a very impor­tant research analy­sis that points to map­ping of the very influ­en­tial micro­bio­me diver­si­ty across that of gut, skin and oral sam­ples with that of the ayurvedic prakri­ti clas­si­fi­ca­tion. In the three dif­fer­ent prakri­ti sam­ples dif­fer­en­tial abun­dance of Bac­teroides, Desul­fovib­rio, Parabac­teroides, Slack­ia, and Suc­cinivib­rio was observed in the gut micro­bio­me. The gut-micro­bio­me pro­fil­ing analy­sis also the pres­ence of fol­low­ing microbes spe­cif­ic to each prakri­ti:

  1. Vata Prakri­ti: Carnobac­teri­um, Robig­ini­talea, Ceto­bac­teri­um, Psy­chrobac­ter

  2. Pit­ta Prakri­ti: Pla­nomi­cro­bi­um, Hyphomi­cro­bi­um, Novosph­in­go­b­i­um

  3. Kapha Prakri­ti: Mogibac­teri­um, Pro­pi­oni­bac­teri­um, Pyra­mi­dobac­ter, Rhodococ­cus

Sim­i­lar­ly, the oral and skin micro­bio­me also revealed the pres­ence of prakri­ti-spe­cif­ic dif­fer­en­tial abun­dance of diverse bac­te­r­i­al genera[4]. Bac­te­ria known for pre­vent­ing gut inflam­ma­tion by digest­ing the resis­tant starch were abun­dant in the pit­ta prakri­ti indi­vid­u­als. Pit­ta dosha is known for aid­ing in diges­tion and oth­er trans­for­ma­tive process­es, but an imbal­ance in this dosha also caus­es the indi­vid­ual to be prone to devel­op gut-inflam­ma­tion-relat­ed and oth­er meta­bol­ic dis­or­ders. In sum­ma­ry, human gut, oral and skin micro­bio­me showed pres­ence or high abun­dance of few bac­te­r­i­al taxa across three prakri­ti types, sug­gest­ing their spe­cif­ic phys­i­o­log­i­cal impor­tance. The research clas­si­fied accord­ing to the micro­bio­me com­po­si­tion on para­me­ters and com­pared to ayurvedic prakri­ti of indi­vid­u­als. This clas­si­fi­ca­tion can now be used to deter­mine what prakri­ti states are prone to what medical/disease con­di­tion and can be used to decide the course of treat­ment.

Infact the gut micro­bio­me pro­fil­ing is proven to vary based on region, eco­nom­i­cal back­ground of fam­i­lies, type of occu­pa­tion. One study tried to map gut-micro­bio­me data with extreme prakri­ti phe­no­types in the west­ern parts of rur­al India and found cor­re­la­tions [6].

From the dis­ease treat­ment point of view there are already detailed ayurvedic treat­ment meth­ods based on the tri­dosha frame­works. Knowl­edge about spe­cif­ic diet regimes based on prakri­ti, yog­ic exer­cis­es and use of med­i­c­i­nal plants endem­ic to indi­vid­ual race and region detailed in ayurve­da can now be used accord­ing to the micro­bio­m­ic pro­fil­ing bridg­ing the gap between ancient and mod­ern and there­by pro­vid­ing impe­tus to trans­la­tion­al med­ical research.

For exam­ple: Lead­ing pre and pro­bi­ot­ic research based on the sci­ence of micro­bio­mics deal­ing with use­ful bac­te­rias aid­ing oral, diges­tive health can now take insights from ayurvedic dietary pat­terns and med­ical rou­tines. Most pro­bi­ot­ic med­i­cines focus on re-estab­lish­ing the bal­ance of good bac­te­rias such as that of lac­to­bacil­lus taxa which is pre­dom­i­nant­ly present in milk and milk based prod­ucts. The sci­ence of ayurve­da deals with milk(kshira) in depth inclu­sive of the vari­ety of sources such as that of camel, sheep, cow, buf­fa­lo etc., the types of fer­men­ta­tion and oth­er milk based med­i­c­i­nal prepa­ra­tions [5].

This def­i­nite­ly is good news for the Indi­an ayurvedic com­mu­ni­ty to vig­or­ous­ly look for areas of cross col­lab­o­ra­tion not only for sci­en­tif­ic val­i­da­tion of scrip­tures but for engag­ing with the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty in trans­mit­ting the ben­e­fits of ayurve­da glob­al­ly. Such research­es can go a long way in fix­ing cer­tain dis­ad­van­tages the areas of pre­ci­sion med­i­cine and per­son­alised med­i­cine are fac­ing today such as lack of research data along eth­nic­i­ty, region etc., because ayurvedic sci­ences would pro­vide for robust frame­works like the tri­dosha, tri­gu­nas etc., that would pro­vide for a con­text of view­ing health from dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and thus arriv­ing at break­through insights.


[3] Viman S, Charak S, edi­tor. ‘8th Adhyaya’. 5. Varanasi: Chaukham­ba San­skrit Sansthan; 2001. p. 277. Avail­able from:

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