Earlier this year, Dr. Lucas Dengel, Executive at EcoPro Auroville, engaged in a fireside chat with the Yuvabe team, discussing the importance of microbiomes and challenging the conventional mindset that hygiene equals zero germs. It was an interesting conversation that aimed at providing our youth a new way of understanding our bodies and health.
The human microbiome is the collection of all microbes, such as bacteria, fungi, viruses, and their genes, that naturally live on our bodies and inside us.
Dr. Lucas delved into the history of microbiology, the role of microbiomes in human health and ecosystems, and the consequences of our obsession with sterility. The mainstream media often portrays germs as harmful, giving rise to the belief that eliminating them is the key to a healthy life. However, Dr. Dengel argues that this is an oversimplified story whose foundations were laid when western scientists began making strides in medical/surgical hygiene practices.
Today, we are slowly learning, or rather, re-learning, that while some microbes do cause diseases like cholera, typhoid fever, and COVID-19, many more play crucial roles in maintaining our health and the environment. Microbiomes not only protect our bodies from pathogens but also train our immune systems, facilitate nutrient uptake, produce essential nutrients like vitamins, and generate anti-inflammatory substances.
In total, the human body hosts at least as many microbial cells as human cells, with the intestinal microbiome alone possibly containing around 700 trillion microbial cells.
The fact that early exposure to soil microbiota is thought to be crucial for the development of neurotransmitters in the brain, is good news for all of us who grew up in Auroville, where exposure to soil has never been an issue. This is also a great affirmation to most of us, who have grown up in a culture of walking and playing barefeet!
Dr. Dengel emphasises that biodiversity within human microbiomes is as essential for health as biodiversity in soil microbiomes and ecosystems! Unfortunately, the modern obsession with sterility has resulted in the overuse of antibiotics and with it, the emergence of multi-drug resistant organisms (MDROs). In the United States, more people have died from MDROs since 2000 than from HIV-AIDS. This alarming trend is also on the rise in India.
The importance of redefining health and hygiene concepts and practices to promote ecological balance and overall well-being is also evident. Health and hygiene shouldn’t necessarily lead to collateral damage to the biosphere with the overuse of disinfectants and biocides. Dr. Dengel informed us about the concept of One Health, which acknowledges the interdependence of human health and environmental resilience as crucial for future hygiene practices.
We are fortunate to be in Auroville, at a time when holistic and preventive healthcare is gaining focus across the world. Be it reducing the intake of antibiotics, increasing our bodies' resilience, or reducing the overuse of hard disinfectants and moving towards ecological alternatives; all are part of the greater health of ourselves and our environment.
In conclusion, Dr. Lucas Dengel's conversation with our team shed light on the need to reevaluate our understanding of germs and hygiene. By recognizing the essential roles microbiomes play in our health and the environment, we can move towards a more balanced approach to hygiene and medical care, fostering a healthier relationship with the fascinating, invisible world of microbes.