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Genetics and Microbes
We all know that we inherit genes from mom and dad, but did you know that we also collect and incorporate genetic material from the microbes we come into contact with every day?
In very exciting new research, as we continue to prove the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda with modern science, it turns out that the connection we have with nature has an important impact on our genetic expressions.1, 3
In the same way we strive to keep our bodies in balance, we should be mindful of helping to maintain balance in nature as well. Why, you ask? Genes from microbes in nature can transfer to genes in microbes inside of us, according to a new study published in Nature: International Journal of Science.1
According to another study, these new microbial genes influence how microbes function once inside of us—with either positive or negative effects.2 A third study suggests that these microbial genes are transferred to and actually affect how the human genome is expressed—wow!3This new science suggests that our genetic expressions are highly impacted by genes in our gut, as well as those from the environment.
If, for example, genes from a plant microbe are altered by a toxin or pesticide, and then transferred to our gut microbes, that toxin could be assimilated into our microbiome and affect body function, and even our genome and genetic expression.1, 3 Makes you think twice about what veggies to buy!
Horizontal Gene Transfer
As opposed to vertical gene transfer, where gene information is passed from parent to offspring, this model is called horizontal gene transfer, a method by which bacteria have been transferred for millions of years to help us adapt to our environment, defend against predators, and develop resistance to antibiotics, to name a few of its myriad functions.1, 2, 3
New research has found that bacteria in our guts are like Velcro for picking up new genetic material, which is then passed on to the human genome, which could then potentially affect how our genes express themselves. Many researchers now believe that this process of horizontal gene transfer is one of the main drivers for human adaptation and/or evolution. Moreover, there is much concern now about how altered DNA from genetically modified (GMO) foods is impacting the human genome and its expression.22
While this is a new discovery in modern science, Ayurveda has suggested for thousands of years that our connection to the cycles of nature (and thus to seasonal plants and food) is critical for optimal health. Thousands of years ago, Ayurveda suggested that love, care, and attention given to growing, preparing, and cooking food had an impact of the subtle energy of that plant. They decreed that food should be handled with TLC or a sattvic touch.
Skin, Microbes + Genes
In the same way that the skin of a plant, fruit, or root supports the life of millions of microbes, so does the skin of the human body. The microbes on plants support functions for the plant and the plant provides basic needs for the microbes in a symbiotic relationship . . . and the same is true of skin.
Humans have microbes that line the surfaces of our skin—most predominately our outer skin, gut skin, respiratory skin, and urogenital skin. These microbes are acquired from nature, and according to the newest research, carry genetic information that drives many of our physiological functions and affects our genome structure.
Perhaps this is why caring for the skin has played such an important part in Ayurveda.
How to Take Care of Your Skin Microbes
- Daily abhyanga (oil self-massage) has been shown to nourish and support a healthy environment for microbes on the skin.5-9
- Oil pulling (swishing with oil in the mouth) has been shown to support beneficial microbes in the mouth.10-15
- Ingesting ghee (rich in butyric acid) with food or as part of a detox program supports a healthy gut microbiome. In fact, our gut cells, immunity, and microbes love ghee (butyric acid) so much that the gut employs numerous microbes to produce its ownbutyric acid.16-20
Evolving with Nature
Transfer of genetic information to microbes on both our internal and external skin may be the channel and antenna connecting us to nature and our evolution. Microbes in the soil, on plants, and on our skin multiply every 10 minutes—a much faster rate than the generational turnover for humans.21
The health of the natural world influences the food and plants we eat, which affects the state of our microbes and our genetic information. This largely influences our physiological functions and how our genes are expressed.1, 2, 3
Syncing with Nature’s Rhythms
Another important tenet of Ayurveda is living in sync with natural rhythms. Studies show that when people disrupt their circadian rhythms with frequent jet lag or shift/night work, they are more vulnerable to a variety of chronic ailments. It turns out the microbes in the gut, and perhaps all over the body, are altered when we go out of sync with nature’s clock.4
Eating, sleeping, and harvest cycles are all critical to optimal health, according to Ayurveda. This is only beginning to be understood by modern science. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, gut microbes play an important role in harmonizing circadian rhythms, with far-reaching impacts on our health and wellbeing.4
We Are What We Eat
We all know that we are what we eat, but this new science helps us understand exactly how that works—down to the genetic level! In order to be healthy, we need to start taking care of the all-important microbes on ourselves, others, and nature.
- Sharma HM, Midich SI, Sands D, Smith DE: Improvement in cardiovascular risk factors through Panchakarma purification procedures. J Res Educ Indian Med, 1993; 12(4); 2-13.
- Charaka Samhita. Ch V. 78–80.