The term was thrown at me as I was flipping through the pages of the newspaper one morning. I was intrigued to say the least. At first glance it seemed like a word that came with too much biological baggage, teaming with complex nuances, details and connotations. It was. According to the National Institute of Health, “The microbiome is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us.” But the term was more than its technical term-heavy definition—the concept had its own, subtle ways of impacting human beings in nearly every aspect of their day-to-day lives—our sleeping habits, dietary patterns, even friendships, relationships and social lives. Wondering how? We got experts to give us the download.
What does it mean?
“Microbiome is referred to the community of microorganisms present in a certain environment. The gut microbiome in particular are the microorganisms present throughout the lining of the gut,” says Dr Eileen Canday, HOD, Nutrition and Dietetics, Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital.
“Microbiomes include bacteria, fungi, and viruses that are present in our skin, mouth, gut, and reproductive system. Gut microbiomes, which are mainly friendly bacteria, and live in our gastrointestinal system! They are what most of the neurotransmitters are comprised of, also referred to as the gut-microbiota-brain axis. This is a network of connections that allows the bi-directional communication between the gut bacteria and the brain. Thus, this microbiome plays a crucial role not just in our gastrointestinal health, but also in the health of the central nervous system and overall immunity. They are also known to affect our moods and social behaviour,” adds Sharmilee Kapur, founder and director of the Atmantan Wellness Centre. Although these microbes are extremely tiny and invisible to the naked eye, their presence contributes to our mental and physical wellbeing.
“Every individual has a unique microbial composition—like a fingerprint—that communicates with the rest of the cells in the body. Research has shown that these single-celled residents are linked to almost every chronic disease and condition—as well as overall health and well-being,” says nutritionist Tanisha Bawa.
How does it affect us?
The microbiome affects us in multiple ways, both positively and negatively. As far as our physical health and wellbeing goes, it helps to protect us from pathogens, and prevent infections, improves our metabolism, boosts immunity, and even improves brain health. “The more diverse and rich the beneficial microbiota, the better it is for health. Beneficial microbes help the human body in various biological processes such as metabolizing vitamins, production of short-chain fatty acids, hormone regulation,” says Canday.
However, imbalances in the microbiome, can cause “Digestive issues, a flare-up of autoimmne diseases, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular issues and can even lead to compromised mental health,” says Kapur.
Besides the individual body and mind, the microbiome also plays a significant part in shaping external factors of our lives. “The microorganisms we are surrounded by play a vital role for our health and these are related to lifestyle factors like eating habits, hydration, sleep quality, stress level, physical activity,” says Canday.
The gut microbiome and its connection with karma and others around us
In an article that appeared a few weeks ago, journalist Narayani Ganesh wrote, “Our microbiome is shaped by family, friends and even neighbours. Social contacts throughout a person’s lifetime seed the body with microbes that could influence health and disease,” reports Ewen Callaway in ‘Nature’ magazine, quoting from a study which says that the microbial communities living in and on our bodies evolve through our lives and are shaped by our social interactions. So, the longer you live with a partner, parents, spouse, children and/or in-laws, all your and their microbiomes live together, too, they talk to each other and over a period of time, they begin to resemble each other.”
Who would have thought that the gut microbiome could play such a prominent role in shaping our social lives? “The microbiome is highly dynamic, it changes and evolves rapidly with the environmental conditions we are constantly living in. People living in the same or similar environment will inhabit a similar set of microbes because of the similar conditions for the microbes to thrive. An interesting study also revealed that spouses have more similar microbiota and more bacterial taxa in common than siblings,” says Canday. In fact, according to study conducted by the University of Waterloo in Canada found cohabitating couples even swap bacteria to a notable degree—enough for a computer algorithm to link a person to their partner with an accuracy rate of 86%. Now, imagine living with someone who doesn’t have a healthy gut microbiome. “When we harbor enough healthy bacteria, this enhances our gut health, brain health, immunity, metabolism, and mental well-being and vice versa. New research suggests that it is this very microbiota that can also affect our aggression, social life, social hierarchies, career selection, mate choice, etc,” says Kapur.
What’s even more fascinating, is the co-relation of the microbiome with karmic fields and energies. “Our karmic fields consist not just of our physical energy but also of our thoughts, words, and intentions. This microbiome are living beings and as we cleanse and improve our karmic footprints (through thoughts, deeds, and behaviour), we also manage to positively improve our internal constituency! Vice versa, the microbiome within us also becomes part of our karmic field (or aura) and this when healthy, positively affects the chakras and energy flow. For example: the gut microbiota improves the energy flow and gut health there in enhancing the sacral chakra health,” says Kapur.
How does one boost microbiomes to evolve in a way that enhances mental, physical, and spiritual health, making possible inner awakening?
Now that we know that the microbiome can affect in in numerous ways, it’s important to understand how we can boost it, to enable a mentally and physically healthy life, not just for ourselves, but also for all the others around us. There are many ways in which you can improve your microbiome. We list down a few.
Dietary habits: According to Bawa, “The foods we eat and don’t eat have a major impact on the microbial composition in the gut. The microbes in our gut like to consume lots of diverse, high-fiber plant foods. Kapur recommends adding fibre-rish pro-biotic, natural supplements and plant-based foods to your diet, which will help boost microbiome strands. “Include foods like yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kimchi, oats, apples, garlic, leeks for a healthy and diverse gut microbiome,” adds Canday.
Movement and exercise: Recent studies have also shown how low-intensity exercises increase the amount of good bacteria in the gut. According to Kapur, maintaining an active lifestyle not only boosts the health of the microbiome but also improves immunity in general.
Good company: Yes, it’s true. Spending time with people who drain your energy, make you feel negatively about yourself or lead to feelings of anxiousness have a not-so-good impact on your gut and its microbiome. “Satsang is a term that refers to a gathering of like-minded seekers. It is loosely used to indicate a gathering where there is group spiritual reflection, discussion, debate, and learning. This would create fertile ground for microbes to thrive in a great atmosphere, boosting individual microbiomes to evolve in a way that enhances mental, physical and spiritual health, making possible inner awakening,” writes Ganesh.