How Illness & Aging Are Controlled
Microbes thrive anywhere and everywhere we look.
But can these microbes 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 other people.
Thus, you and I may have vastly different presence of pathogens for our immune system to deal with.
A higher pathogenic load means more:
Pathogenic load rises 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 — and this only perpetuates the problem.
Humans have multiple microbiomes in and around the body.
Our environment, habits, and immune system determine the health of these microbiomes.
Let’s explore how pathogens function in our world, how they shape our delicate microbiome, and what we can do to optimize our health, longevity, and recovery from chronic illness.
Did you know the entire world is one big microbiome? It is! And its microbial life change from location to location.
In fact, mere inches apart, vastly different microbes will live and thrive based on:
A Self-Regulating Microbiome
Nature is simply abundant with microbial life.
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 vs Microbes
Microbial diversity prevents any single species from dominating an environment.
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 diversity is abundant, with nearly every square inch of the earth’s surfaces teeming with microscopic life.
And this microscopic life directly impacts — and inhabits — the human body.
Microbially, the indoor environment is very different than the outdoor environment.
Buildings do not have these natural elements — UV, ozone, or rainfall — to keep them clean. It’s dark inside walls, crawl spaces, attics, and closets.
Instead, buildings rely entirely on humans to maintain them.
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
Clean, dry indoor habitats don’t let microbes grow.
Sure, microbes still abound indoors. They shouldn’t be thriving, but they’re absolutely still there.
All Buildings Have Microbes, Yes…
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. If moisture is also present, nothing stops microbes from flourishing in our buildings.
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.
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
To Flourish, Microbes Need:
Hospitable living conditions:
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. 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.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
The Human Touch
Humans endlessly transfer microbes to the environment.
Every object we touch, the furniture we use, and the floor underneath us receives microbes when we use the space.
“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. 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.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4080534/
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 — literally — 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.
…Waiting For Better Conditions
Microbes in clean, dry buildings are largely waiting for a more hospitable place to live.
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 eat and grow.
The microbes are surviving — but not thriving. They’re hanging on for better conditions.
What might “better conditions” look like for a microbe? Where might they go?
- A building’s health can change — A healthy, dry building can always become a moist, sick building.
- Humans & indoor animals
A building becomes hospitable to microbes when moisture or nutrients become available.
Or, when a human enters the room.
Your Room, But “Its” Microbes
We don’t simply “seed” the buildings we inhabit — rooms “seed” us, too.
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.
The Human Microbiome
The human body is teeming with microbial life — but mostly in certain “external” areas.
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/
Remember, 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. 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: The skin, eyes, genitals, ears, nose, & mouth.
On external surfaces, the body cannot prevent all microbes from establishing colonies — and thus, there is a healthy symbiotic cooperation between bodily surfaces and microbes.
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 possibly 100 trillion microbes.
These 100 trillion gut microbes play a large role in health. When healthy, these microbes help digest food, boost immunity, detoxify harmful chemicals, and synthesize vitamins.
To truly thrive, microbes need a warm, moist place with ample food supply. Fortunately for them, the human body is meets all of those demands. The main residence for microbes: The human digestive tract.
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/
This finding suggests the microbes in the hospital were directly colonizing the digestive tracts of the infants — and it didn’t take long to happen, just mere days.
Environmental microbes colonize the guts of humans of all ages.
Symbiosis -vs- Dysbiosis
A healthy microbiome means that microbes are working synergistically with the host’s body. The population in any microbiome needs to consist of mostly beneficial microbes and with very few harmful pathogens.
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.’
The microbes in any microbiome 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.
The body has many microbiomes: mouth, gut, nose, skin, ears, vagina, and more.
Dysbiosis in one microbiome will ultimately, spread to other microbiomes — as chronic exposure to harmful microbes works to undermine the system. That is, unless steps are taken to reverse the process and restore symbiosis in the body’s microbiomes.
Microbiome Affects 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
MYTH: Modern Life is Sterile
Obviously, modern indoor environments are not sterile — nowhere close.
It’s simply impossible to keep a building clean enough to allow sterility.
- Microbes and viruses spread every minute, day and night.
- Mold spores enter every time a window or door is opened, riding on the breeze, your clothes, and items.
- Every cloth, fabric, and nook hides countless microbes, spores, and dust mites.
- Air conditioning systems tend to harbor, nurture, and distribute mold and fungi year-round — at all times. This worsens with age.
In modernity, buildings are not much 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, it almost certainly will become that way as it ages.
“I thought we needed more outside germs in our sterile world?“
This is partially true.
The human body needs to be exposed to more microbes 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, we do not need to let our homes become toxic soups of dust, mold, fungal spores, mycotoxins, and dust mite excrement.
Letting a building become infected with microbial life is not somehow “returning to nature.” Letting dust build up is not healthy: mold can grow on dust, and dust mite excrement is extremely toxic.
Indoor Microbes Are Different Than Outdoor Microbes
In fact, the microbes that thrive in moist buildings are actually different species than those found thriving in nature.
Nature’s microbiome is diverse — for several reasons.
Nature Is Self-Cleaning
UV light sterilizes the air and surfaces every single day.
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.
In nature, we instinctively avoid dark, moist places with a foul stench — places where UV light doesn’t reach and air and water can’t circulate.
In these sick places, toxic fungi and bacteria build up, releasing harmful fumes — a warning sign to animals, and even other microbial life.
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. Humidity, VOCs, dust, and mold spores cannot escape.
The scent industry — in air fresheners, cleaners, and laundry products — is absolutely exploding, in part for this very reason.
In addition to a lack of UV light, ozone, and air exchange, the presence of moisture allows microbial life to explode in buildings — wherever water is present.
Is moisture present in buildings?
Moisture is actually rampant in buildings.
- Indoor plumbing — sinks, drains, showers, toilets, washers, dishwashers, & humidifiers harbor moisture
- Unconditioned spaces — attics, crawl spaces, & between walls
- Humidity — rises above 85% in most summer climates
- Rainfall — buildings must be protected perfectly from rain and groundwater intrusion
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 becoming commonplace around the world — and with them comes elevated exposure to pathogens (harmful microbes).
Water-damaged buildings saturate their indoor space with fungal mold spores which readily live in nasal passages and colonize the mouth and gut. Mold also releases toxins that greatly harm the body.
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 different set of microbes than our ancestors.
Seeing that we spend so much time indoors, we must make sure we are not doing so in a sick building. The results can be devastating to the entire microbiome and lead to many health challenges and diseases.
How To Improve Your Microbiomes
The best news in all this? Microbiomes are not static. You can change yours.
The most critical human microbiome is in the gut, and it’s recommended to start there.
You can also improve these important microbiomes.
Your environment is also a critical factor in transforming your microbiome. The first step to improving your environment? Spending significant time outside each day.
Then, pay attention to your building’s health.