The ways that the environment around you can help boost your immune function can be traced back to the biodiversity hypothesis; a theory that explains how contact with the world around you enriches the effectiveness of the body’s microbiome. Recently, an experiment at a Finnish daycare center has helped to demonstrate the validity of the biodiversity hypothesis. Understanding how the natural environment strengthens immune system helps to explain why some individuals are able to fight off illness more easily. Health savvy individuals can use this research to understand more about how to support a healthy gut microbiome.
Understanding the Human Microbiome
The human microbiome is a diverse biological ecosystem that encompasses trillions of microscopic bacteria, parasites, fungi and other organisms that live inside the digestive system and throughout the body. This living ecosystem contains both harmful and beneficial microbes. A well-functioning microbiome houses organisms that co-exist peacefully.
However, a disturbed microbiome can negatively affect both the digestive system and the overall immune system. These disruptions can be caused by a number of issues, including the use of antibiotics, a poor diet and illness. Without a healthy microbiome, you are putting your body at a higher risk of illness and disease.
Understanding the Biodiversity Hypothesis
The biodiversity hypothesis is a theory that points to contact with the natural environment as an enrichment mechanism for the body’s microbiome. This enrichment by the world around you works to support the immune system while protecting the body from a host of inflammatory disorders and allergic reactions.
The hypothesis relies on science that demonstrates that the human body is protected by two distinct layers of biodiversity. The first outer layer is made up of elements of the natural environment, such as plants, animals, soil and water. The inner layer is comprised of elements such as the gut and skin. This inner layer resides in the body and is affected by the outer layer.
The core of the hypothesis states that limited contact with the natural environment may negatively affect the human microbiota and the ability of the microbiome to support optimal immune function. The more our modern environment changes, the more the loss of biodiversity around us leads to an increase in inflammatory diseases. Proponents of the biodiversity hypothesis believe that these two events are connected.
For example, research has shown that the incidence of immunological inflammatory diseases, including allergies and diabetes, has increased in nations that have a higher level of hygiene. This is believed to be the result of the human body not coming into contact with the microbes in the natural environment in these more evolved societies.
How the Natural Environment Strengthens Immune System
A study out of Finland has helped shed light on how the natural environment can boost immune function. Researchers recreated the natural environment by building a forest floor consisting of soil, moss, grasses and other elements at four urban daycare facilities. The children were told to play on this forested ground for 90 minutes each day for one month.
The researchers then analyzed and compared the gut and skin microbes of the children at the test sites with children from typical daycare centers with the usual sterile play areas. The study found that the diversity of the bacteria in the intestines and on the skin of the children in the test group increased sharply over the measured time period. In addition, the T-cell counts of these children also increased after just 28 days in this enhanced natural environment.
Ways You Can Promote a Healthy Microbiome
The question remains: How can humans living in advanced societies improve their microbiome so that their immune system remains to fire on all cylinders? Here are a few proven ways that you can promote a healthy microbiome.
Eat Fermented Foods
Fermented foods are an excellent source of natural probiotics, live bacteria and yeasts that have been shown to boost the health of the gut. Foods that are high in natural probiotics include kefir, tempeh, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, miso and fermented vegetables.
Take a Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplement
Since most people do not consume enough fermented foods in their diet, a dietary supplement that contains both probiotics and prebiotics can be useful to positively support the intestinal flora.
Reduce Stress Levels
Studies in animals have shown that stress can disturb the balance of microorganisms in the intestines, regardless of how long the stress is an issue. Managing your stress levels through meditation, exercise and other mechanisms can help to promote a healthier gut.
Avoid Excessive Use of Antibiotics
While there is certainly a place for antibiotics when needed, excessive use of this type of medication has been shown to disrupt the body’s natural microbiome. If you are on antibiotics, you can protect against this disruption by taking a probiotic supplement.
Taking active steps to support a healthy microbiome can have long-lasting positive effects on your overall health. This is easier than you think if you know how to harness the power of supplements and good nutrition to counteract the shift in biodiversity in modern times.