Microbes Control Illness & Aging
Microbes thrive anywhere and everywhere we look. So can they live in — and affect — our body’s health?
Absolutely. In fact, many scientists believe aging should be considered a disease — with pathogens playing a main role. Why?
Microbes are found in neonatal blood and tissues even before birth. Yet, in the age of antibiotics — with fewer deaths due to acute infection — we’ve lost sight that we live in a microbial world.
Surprisingly, there’s a wide variation in total microbial load inside each person.
Some people have three times (or more) the bacterial DNA circulating in the body as others.
Thus, one person to the next, we all have vastly different pathogenic burdens for our immune system to deal with.
A higher pathogenic load means more:
Pathogenic load also increases as we age: Rising levels of bacterial toxins in bloodstream and tissues are found in the elderly.
When our microbiome isn’t healthy, pathogens directly suppress the immune system in order to survive.
A suppressed immune system only falls further and further behind, unable to stay on top of the pathogenic load — and the body becomes weaker and weaker.
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It’s our environment, our habits, and immune system that determine the health of our microbiomes.
Let’s explore how pathogens function in our world, how they shape our delicate microbiome, and how we can use this awareness to optimize our health, longevity, and recovery.
The entire earth is one, big biome — teeming with microscopic microbes in nearly every square centimeter.
And that microbial life changes drastically from location to location.
In fact, mere inches apart, vastly different microbes will live and thrive based on:
- nutrient availability
A Self-Regulating Microbiome
Bacteria, fungus, and viruses are predominant microbes — but they never grow unimpeded in nature.
The outdoor microbiome is regulated via the following natural elements.
Nature Competes With Microbes
Nature keeps microbial life in check in many ways.
Microbial diversity prevents any single species from dominating an environment, as microbes compete, fight, and attack each other for territory.
UV light sterilizes exposed surfaces. Daily sunlight continually reduces the microbial count across the ground.
Ozone is known as “nature’s sterilizer.” It’s created by oxygen and light and kills microbes on contact.
Rainfall rinses surfaces and then evaporates or runs downhill, preventing stagnation.
Visible & Infrared Light
Visible light and infrared kill or inhibit the growth of microbes. Microbes usually prefer darkness and comfortable, moderate temperatures.
Despite nature’s self-cleaning mechanism, microbial life thrives on and under the earth’s surface.
Earth’s microscopic life directly impacts each human body, every single day.
Microbially, the indoor environment is very different than the outdoor environment.
Buildings do not have these natural elements — light, ozone, rainfall, microbial competition — to keep them clean.
Instead, buildings rely entirely on humans to maintain them.
The Indoor Microbiome
All Buildings Have Microbes
Researchers have discovered that there are similar numbers of microbial species 1) on indoor furniture and 2) in the Amazon rainforest.
So, microbial species are absolutely present indoors.
A Moist Building is a Sick Building
Microbes only need one basic thing to thrive in our buildings: Moisture.
Modern building materials provide ample food for microbes — Just add moisture.
A Dry Building is a Healthy Building
In theory, clean, dry indoor habitats won’t let microbes grow.
Sure, microbes still abound indoors. They shouldn’t be thriving, but they’re absolutely still there — so it’s paramount that a building always be dry.
Moisture is Everywhere
Water is everywhere we look in buildings.
Water enters buildings via: plumbing pipes, air conditioners, sinks, drains, and washing machines.
Rainfall searches for a way inside: through roofs, gutters, windows, fireplaces, and at the foundation level.
Even elevated humidity — above 50-55% — causes microbes to grow rapidly.
Hospitals Aren’t Sterile
Hospitals employ rigorous steps to filter air and kill pathogens — yet microbes are everywhere researchers look.
A separate study found that shower heads were also populated by opportunistic potential pathogens that are significantly different from microbes found elsewhere in patient rooms. These bacteria tend to form biofilms, persistent colonies of microbes… and can be next to impossible to kill.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
Even Sterile Rooms Aren’t Sterile
Even in scientific “sterile rooms” we find that sterility is nearly impossible.
Microbes are stubborn and hardy. It can be challenging to completely kill them.
‘“It’s very hard to clear out all of the microbes from a particular ecosystem,” Eisen says. …Simply put, sterility doesn’t exist.’Rethinking Sterile — The Hospital Microbiome
The human body is a walking zoo of microbial life — for better or worse.
‘”Most of the microbes present in the hospital environment, however, arrive via humans, whether brought in on the soles of our shoes, on our cell phones, or our bodies themselves.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
Like Pigpen’s permanent aura of dirt in the “Peanuts” cartoon, humans are surrounded by a cloud of microbes. “Humans shed microbes wherever we go,” Gilbert says.
The Human Touch
Humans perpetually transfer microbes to the environment.
Every object we touch, the furniture we use, and the floor underneath us receives microbes.
“Each time we touch an object, we can (and do) transfer millions of microbes from our body to the environment. Because the types of microbes available to be transferred vary from person to person and body part to body part, different surfaces are likely to host different species.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
Objects such as computer keyboards, light switches, and soap dispensers are continually reseeded with microbes from our hands each time they are touched.
Restrooms, on the other hand, are dominated by microorganisms associated with the gastrointestinal and urogenital tracts.”
The Classroom Study
One study analyzed the microbiome of a classroom, with surprising findings.
Each surface was home to a different combination of species, depending on how humans touched the surface:
- Floors had outdoor species from shoes.
- Chairs had microbial species from our digestive and urogenital tracts and skin.
- Cell phones, light switches, and keyboards were populated with microbes from the hands (and whatever they touched).
“A detailed analysis of the microbiome in a classroom revealed that the types of species found varied depending on the type of human contact each sampled surface received. Chairs, the researchers found, carried a preponderance of microbes from the gastrointestinal and urogentital tracts, as well as from skin. The floors and walls were dominated by species from outdoors, likely brought in on shoes and introduced through the ventilation system.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
“Your” Hospital Room
Back in the hospital, researchers found that a room’s microbiome was rapidly affected by the people in the room.
Remarkably, the people you spend your time around affect your microbiome.
Microbes in clean, dry buildings are waiting for a more hospitable place to live.
…Waiting For Better Conditions
The built environment appears to be more of a waiting room for these potentially harmful bacteria until better conditions are present.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
In a well-maintained and well-designed building, microbes lack needed moisture and food to grow.
The microbes are surviving — but not really thriving. They’re hanging on, waiting for better conditions.
So what might “better conditions” look like for a microbe?
- The building’s health could change — It only takes water intrusion, humidity, or lax maintenance.
- In a human’s microbiome — The human body is a warm, moist environment, with multiple microbiomes that are hospitable to microbes
- Travel on a human — to their home or work, which might be more welcoming to microbes
So, humans ‘seed’ the buildings we inhabit — but it’s actually more of a two-way street.
Our buildings seed us, too.
Your Room, But “Its” Microbes
Your microbiome will reflect the spaces you live and work in.
Researchers now know that humans can acquire many of their microbes from their environment.https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.122-A182
There is a demonstrated link between exposures to infectious microorganisms present in built environments and human health.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458822/
We, as humans, acquire our personal microbiome from our environment.
Unfortunately, as we’ll see, not all environments have a healthy microbiome.
A Building’s Design & Architecture Impacts Its Microbiome
In terms of design and function, buildings are wildly different one to the next.
A building’s primary responsibility is to withstand moisture — by keeping it out.
The human body is teeming with so much microbial life — it’s can be called a superorganism.
As a result of the vast number of bacterial cells in the body, the host and the microorganisms inhabiting it are often referred to as a ‘superorganism.’https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5433529/
Keep in mind that the body’s immune system has one job: to kill and deactivate microbes when they get inside the body.
However, there are various zones around the body where microbes find a ready home — and even a strong immune system cannot destroy them.
Therefore, microorganisms inside us reside mostly in certain areas.
In these fertile areas, colonies of microbes develop complex jungles of microscopic life (microbiome).
These zones all exist at the interfaces where the body meets the outside world.
No bodily surfaces are sterile. Instead of sterility, there should be a healthy symbiotic cooperation between all bodily surfaces and microbes.
For instance, the health of your skin depends in part on the health of your skin’s microbiome.
In good health, the microbes of the mouth, nose, ears, throat, skin, genitals are all balanced and beneficial to the body.
Perhaps the most important “outside-the-body” microbiome is the gut, home to 100 trillion microbes.
Gut microbes play a major role in health.
When healthy, gut microbes help digest food, boost immunity, detoxify harmful chemicals, and synthesize vitamins.
Remember what all microbes need: A warm, moist place with ample food supply. Fortunately for them, the human body meets all of those demands.
The primary human residence for microbes is clearly the digestive tract — where warmth, moisture, and organic matter are abundant.
The Infant Study
In this study, stool samples taken from infants in the NICU reflected the same microbial species present throughout the NICU.
‘Brooks and colleagues collected fecal samples from the NICU newborns every three days. For each fecal sample, they also collected 33 environmental samples from around the NICU. The main species of bacteria they found in the infants’ guts (Staphylococcus epidermidis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Bacteroides fragilis, and Escherichia coli) were found throughout the NICU, suggesting the hospital environment may have been the source of these microbes.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
These findings suggests the microbes in the hospital were directly colonizing the digestive tracts of the infants — and it didn’t take long to happen, either — mere days.
What’s also true: Environmental microbes colonize the guts of humans of all ages.
A healthy microbiome means that microbes are working synergistically with the body.
Symbiosis -vs- Dysbiosis
The population in any microbiome should consist of mostly beneficial microbes — with very few harmful pathogens.
Thus, a healthy microbiome is in a state of ‘symbiosis.’
STUDY: “Proteins produced by microbes may…”
Proteins produced by microbes may interact with human cells and potentially function in altering barrier protection to the external environment.https://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(18)30375-2/fulltext
The microbiota, which is the community of fungi, parasites, viruses, and bacteria, may increase mucosal barrier function through pathogen exclusion and activation of the innate and adaptive immune system
However, keeping pathogens at bay in our body’s microbiomes can be a difficult task — especially as we age or deal with chronic illness. The gut microbiome weakens in both age and illness.
As a result, pathogens become more active in our microbiome, spreading around the body and wreaking havoc: causing inflammation, toxicity, nutrient malabsorption, hormonal disruption, circadian disruption, and more.
An unhealthy microbiome is in a state of ‘dysbiosis.’
Microbes Spread Around the Body
Microbes in the body hardly stay put. They grow, multiply and look for better opportunities to thrive.
Therefore, our body’s many different microbiomes are each connected to each other. Microbes from one travel all around the body, attempting to populate the other microbiomes.
In stress, the gut lining becomes more permeable — letting bacteria into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, microbes go everywhere.
Remember, the body has many microbiomes: mouth, gut, nose, skin, ears, vagina, and more.
Thus, dysbiosis in one microbiome will ultimately, spread to other microbiomes — causing adverse health effects along the way.
Microbiomes Affect Allergies
That microbial infections can influence the development and severity of allergic diseases is well established. Examples include Staphylococcus aureus or herpes simplex infection in atopic dermatitis (AD) and various respiratory viral infections in asthma.https://www.annallergy.org/article/S1081-1206(19)30003-1/fulltext
Chronic high exposure to harmful microbes, via dysbiosis, works to undermine your health unless steps are taken to reverse the process and restore symbiosis in the body’s microbiomes.
Obviously, indoor environments are not sterile — not even close.
But a common idea suggests our modern world is too sterile. Is this accurate?
MYTH: Modern Life is Sterile
It’s simply impossible to keep a building clean enough to even resemble sterility.
Modern buildings are not more sterile than ancient buildings — and yet bring risks ancient buildings didn’t, such as:
Our modern buildings are quite often sick — and if a building isn’t sick yet, chances are high it will become that way as it ages due to:
- poor design
- poor materials
- poor maintenance
“I thought we needed more outside germs in our sterile world?“
This is a half-truth.
What’s true is that the human body needs to be exposed to more of the diverse microbes found in nature.
Evidence suggests that exposure to nature’s microbes helps the gut microbiome become diverse and strong. It also trains our immune system to resist pathogens.
However, what’s not true is this: We cannot let our homes become toxic soups of moisture, dust, mold, fungal spores, mycotoxins, and dust mite excrement.
Buildings cannot withstand microbial activity without falling apart and becoming dangerously unhealthy to live in.
Letting a building teem with microbial life is not somehow “returning to nature.”
- Accumulating dust not healthy: Mold grows on dust, and dust mite excrement is extremely toxic.
- High humidity inside buildings allows them to rot — to be broken down by fungus, which release harmful VOC’s and spores into the trapped air space.
Indoor Microbes — Different Than Outdoor Microbes
The microbes that thrive in moist buildings are different species than those found thriving in nature.
Nature’s microbiome is diverse — keeping itself in check. Indoors, one harmful species can grow out of control due to the limited range of food supply (building materials).
Nature is Self-Cleaning
Remember how nature regulates its microbiome such that no species dominates?
- Ozone, created when UV light irradiates oxygen (also: when lightning strikes) to sterilize nature even more.
- Rain falls, cleanses and rinses, and keeps things from stagnating.
- Winds blow, preventing air from stagnating and building up toxic VOCs, dust, and spores.
- Competition between microbes keeps them all in check.
In nature, there are damp, stagnant places — where toxic fungi and bacteria build up — with harmful fumes as a warning sign to animals, and other microbial life.
In nature, we instinctively avoid these dark, moist places with a foul stench — places where UV light doesn’t reach, and air and water can’t circulate.
We innately know to avoid foul places.
And yet our buildings are becoming similar to the places we intuitively avoid in nature.
Buildings are — by definition — trapped spaces where UV light does not reach. Modern construction has become more tightly built, so ozone does not seep in anymore. Air exchange has slowed to a crawl, so humidity, VOCs, dust, and mold spores cannot escape.
The presence of moisture allows microbial life to proliferate in buildings.
The scent industry — with air fresheners, cleaners, and laundry products — is absolutely exploding, in part because indoor spaces are smelling worse. Unfortunately, fragrances add to indoor toxicity, and mask problems that should be solved rather than hidden.
The only thing needed for microbes to thrive indoors is moisture.
Is moisture present in buildings?
Moisture is rampant in buildings!
We don’t live in a sterile world,
we live in sick buildings.
Definition: Sick Building Syndrome
Sick building syndrome (SBS) is used to describe a situation in which the occupants of a building experience acute health- or comfort-related effects that seem to be linked directly to the time spent in the building. The complainants may be localized in a particular room or zone or may be widespread throughout the building.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2796751/
Sick buildings are commonplace around the world — and they’re becoming endemic in the modern, first world.
With them comes elevated exposure to pathogens and toxins.
Water-damaged buildings saturate their indoor space with fungal mold spores — which readily live in inhabitants’ nasal passages, and colonize the mouth and gut.
Mold also releases other mycotoxins that harm the body in multiple ways — including hypothyroidism.
STUDY: “Damp building conditions promote…”
Damp building conditions promote the growth of mold, bacteria, and other microbial agents. Damp buildings may also contain other living organisms, such as dust mites and cockroaches (along with their associated microbial communities).https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK458822/
By separating themselves from the outdoors, humans may have eroded the diversity of their own, as well as their environmental, microbiomes.
In developed areas of the world, humans are born and spend the vast majority of their lives indoors, which may limit the diversity of microorganisms to which they are exposed. A building’s envelope (foundation, walls, windows, and roofs) separates the indoor and outdoor environments, thus reducing exposure to microorganisms that thrive outdoors and potentially increasing exposure to organisms that thrive indoors.
Modern humans spend more time than ever indoors — breathing recycled air and exposed to a very different, limited, set of microbes than our ancestors.
Since we spend so much time indoors, it’s important to do so in healthy buildings. Otherwise, the results can be devastating to the entire microbiome — and lead to health challenges and diseases, and ensure a slow, hard recovery from illness.
The best news of all? Microbiomes are not static — they’re not stuck permanently.
Microbiomes change constantly — and you can change yours.
To do so, first understand the elements that impact each microbiome: your environment, your immunity, and your habits.
How you think about your health — and your microbiome — will determine your actions to improve.
So envision your body accurately, as a collection of many species of life, and then take steps to build harmony between human and microbe.
The most critical human microbiome is certainly in the gut, and it’s wise to begin there.
You can also improve these important microbiomes independently.
Of course, your environment will always be a critical factor in transforming your microbiome — so be mindful of what’s happening around you.
The first step to improving your environmental exposure? Finding nourishment and respite via significant time spent in nature, each day and every week. As your awareness grows, mind your living and work spaces.
Understanding, improving, protecting, and, several times, leaving my unhealthy environments has made all the difference in my health adventure.
My greatest results have always come when I recognized a sick building — and then left it for a better one.
This completes Understand the Microbiome.
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