Updated: May 13, 2021
There is a rapidly growing realization that the “modern plagues” arising over the past 70 years are evidence of a weakened microbiome caused by antibiotics and/or low quality food. As an ecologist, I argue that there are a great many causes and no single cause is to blame. The many new epidemics are caused by a weakening of the internal AND the internal ecosystems, and to solve this problem we must understand the underlying principles governing both. And yet, we don’t have to solve the problem or wait years for it to be solved by future research.
I will present the idea that despite the complexity of human biology, we have the solutions within our grasp and we can take action now, and the eventual detailed understanding will come with a great deal of research. While the microbiome topic has been introduced by a number of books recently, all of them are either summarizing current (and now out of date) knowledge or offering very simplistic (and often incorrect) solutions such as avoiding vaccines or processed food or through dietary adjustments and supplements. My approach is to appreciate the complexity of the situation, accept the fact that we are ecosystems and not individuals, and that we must live a life complementing that reality.
The human microbiome is currently the hottest topic in biomedical research, the #1 emerging topic in human health, and will dominate federal and international research funding into human health, genetics, personal diets, and individualized medicine for decades to come. Indeed, not only is an understanding of the microbiome made possible by ecology and evolutionary biology, a greater understanding of the microbiome will change how we interpret research in ecology and evolutionary biology.
I will place the microbiome into a more complete context so the reader can understand why the microbiome is so important, what it does, and why understanding it in a holistic (i.e., ecological) way is critical. My goal is not a detailed introduction of the topic to the reader because there are a number of published books on the subject. I want the reader to understand that humans are not only dependent on their external ecosystem, but that we have an ecosystem inside our bodies, and the two are intricately inter-connected.
More importantly, every person must understand that their personal health is rooted in the health of their microbiome and that as we pursue better health we must have a correct understanding of nutrition. There is no book on the market that takes an evolutionary and ecological approach to considering the microbiome and uses that understanding to discuss and determine a path forward.
Ultimately, my objective is to make concrete recommendations for protecting and enhancing human health that are based on a firm understanding of who we are as biological beings. The post will build a story about understanding the microbiome, but will lead us to food, food quality, and how to eat to be healthy in a world that is increasingly encouraging us to live in a way that is somewhere between unhealthy and toxic.