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Microbiome : The key to health

Indic Knowl­edge sys­tems holds the key to unlock­ing, var­i­ous oth­er­wise seem­ing­ly enig­mat­ic nat­ur­al process­es. At its core this sys­tem of sci­ence deals with the whole of this cos­mic cre­ation as a man­i­fes­ta­tion of an under­ly­ing intel­li­gence (purusha). In the series of arti­cles we plan to bring the read­ers the inter­con­nec­tions between pop­u­lar research areas of neu­ro­science, epi­ge­net­ics, arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence with that of Indi­an sci­ences of Yoga, Ayurve­da, Sid­dha, Jyotisha. The arti­cles will also explore sci­en­tif­ic basis of tra­di­tion­al best prac­tices that has been passed on to us through the civil­i­sa­tion­al con­tin­u­um. The idea is to use this plat­form as a mode of sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the Indic sci­ences cit­ing authen­tic research arti­cles, propos­ing new areas of research and to share the knowl­edge for the ben­e­fit of the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty.

Ethnicity or Lifestyle choices — Which can assure better health?

The human body is now con­sid­ered as the col­lec­tion of tril­lions of essen­tial microor­gan­isms such as fun­gi, bac­te­ria, virus­es etc., that help main­tain the bal­ance, pro­vide for nat­ur­al immu­ni­ty and can cause ail­ments if the bal­ance tips off. This col­lec­tion is called micro­bio­me. A recent research study [1] sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly explored effects of Geo­graph­i­cal place­ment, mode of sub­sis­tence and eth­nic­i­ty on the human micro­bio­ta across the lines of micro­bial diver­si­ty, their pop­u­la­tion in spe­cif­ic sites in the human body. Human micro­bio­me refers specif­i­cal­ly to the col­lec­tion of microor­gan­isms that are res­i­dent in the human body. Many inter­est­ing facts have emerged that would chal­lenge com­mon­ly accept­ed lifestyle choic­es and homog­e­niza­tion of med­ical treat­ments of mod­ern times.

Mode of Subsistence:

  1. Increased urban­i­sa­tion and move­ment away from rur­al farm­ing has decreased micro­bial diver­si­ty espe­cial­ly in the human gut. This diver­si­ty endowed our ances­tors with greater sta­bil­i­ty and flex­i­bil­i­ty enabling them to cope with chal­leng­ing ecol­o­gy. Increased indoor-based secured life-style, refined high pro­tein food con­sump­tion, less expo­sure to soil, for­est or domes­tic ani­mals and habit­u­al use of antibi­otics have dra­mat­i­cal­ly impact­ed the func­tion­al role of nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring micro­bio­ta so much so that these use­ful organ­isms are almost absent in the urban pop­u­la­tion mak­ing them high­ly prone for infec­tion.

  1. The study sug­gests that loss of ben­e­fi­cial microbes (such as tre­pone­ma) which would have played a cru­cial meta­bol­ic role in human health explains the rise of sev­er­al ‘dis­eases of civ­i­liza­tion’ such as aller­gies, obe­si­ty, dia­betes, asth­ma.

  1. Stud­ies sug­gest­ed that com­mon skin dis­eases like der­mati­tis, pso­ri­a­sis, acne etc. are often caused not because of pathogens but due to dis­rup­tion in nor­mal skin micro­bio­ta. Age, Gen­der, Cli­mate, Geo­graph­i­cal loca­tion, exoge­nous envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors etc., are cru­cial fac­tors caus­ing a spe­cif­ic pat­tern of micro­bial col­o­niza­tion on skin. More over skin micro­bio­me pro­file showed extreme diver­gence across the mode of sub­sis­tence. For eg: [2] Skin micro­bial pro­file of Rur­al Chi­nese men (adults and elder­ly) who par­tic­i­pat­ed in a study were derived from soil, water and oth­er envi­ron­men­tal sources as they were all agri­cul­tur­al field-work­ers. While the urban subject’s skin micro­bio­me was human derived pre­dom­i­nant­ly with very lit­tle con­tri­bu­tion from envi­ron­ment, due to lack of expo­sure from indoor occu­pa­tions.

Ethnicity & Geographical Placement:

Analy­sis across these para­me­ters fires the clas­sic debate Nature Vs Nur­ture. Irre­spec­tive of geo­graph­i­cal place­ments com­mu­ni­ties of sim­i­lar sub­sis­tence mode exhib­it high­er degree of micro­bial con­ver­gence espe­cial­ly in the gut area advo­cat­ing dom­i­nance of nur­ture over nature in human micro­bio­me com­po­si­tion aspect.

On the con­trary host genet­ics (eth­nic­i­ty) and there by nat­ur­al immu­ni­ty are crit­i­cal fac­tors shap­ing micro­bial ecosys­tem in the female gen­i­talia. For exam­ple Lac­to­bacil­lus species (the com­mon cur­dling bac­te­ria) was present high­er in the female gen­i­talia pro­files of Asian and Cau­casian women of repro­duc­tive age while African women are prone to have high­er pop­u­la­tion of anaer­o­bic bac­te­ria. This cor­re­lates well with the high­er inci­dence of gen­i­tal infec­tion and preterm births in the African woman com­mu­ni­ty. Even then lifestyle choic­es such as mode of preg­nan­cy, alco­hol usage etc., have sub­stan­tial influ­ences in influ­enc­ing the host micro­bial pro­file.

The Human micro­bio­me is a buzz­word of soughts which is dri­ving pletho­ra of research such as that of ther­a­peu­tic strate­gies, soil cul­tur­ing, nutri­tion mod­els based on micro­bio­me pro­fil­ing across the globe. All these cur­rent research­es are based on those done in WEIRD coun­tries (West­ern, Edu­cat­ed, Indus­tri­alised, Rich and Demo­c­ra­t­ic coun­tries) with native sub­jects. The research out­comes of this paper cat­e­gor­i­cal­ly describes how geog­ra­phy and envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors leads to huge micro­bial pro­file diver­gence and more often than not over­pow­er host genet­ic traits. Sim­ply because of the high­er degree of inter­ac­tion with the envi­ron­ment. It is inter­est­ing to note how in ayurve­da and sid­dha sys­tem of med­i­cine it is described that the zon­al vari­a­tion of herbs, its pres­ence or absence in a par­tic­u­lar region indi­cates what are the type of ail­ments the res­i­dents will be prone to.

This study clear­ly chal­lenges uni­ver­sal­i­ty of micro­bio­me based treat­ment strate­gies so much so that micro­bial manip­u­la­tions designed based on research from WEIRD coun­tries may have unin­tend­ed and adverse con­se­quences in non-west­ern pop­u­la­tion. It rec­om­mends for geo­graph­i­cal­ly tai­lored com­mu­ni­ty-scale approach­es to micro­bio­me engi­neer­ing much sim­i­lar to our tra­di­tion­al med­i­cine sys­tems.



  2. Ying, S., Zeng, D. N., Chi, L., Tan, Y., Gal­zote, C., Car­dona, C., et al. (2015). The influ­ence of age and gen­der on skin-asso­ci­at­ed micro­bial com­mu­ni­ties in urban and rur­al human pop­u­la­tions. PLoS ONE 10:e0141842. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0141842

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