Your Roots and the Soil You Grow In
Have you ever noticed the multitude of patterns nature creates? One of my favorites is the beautiful geometric spirals of Romanesco broccoli. I always take a pause when it catches my eye in the supermarket! There's patterns between life forms too. Tree branches have a striking resemblance to the bronchi of our lungs, and the hustle and bustle coming to and from an ant hill brings the busy traffic of a city to mind. Another pattern is less obvious, but no less incredible. We, just as plants, have a root system and soil. The role of root systems in plants is to take in nutrients and water from the soil. The soil is essentially their food. When the soil is deficient in nutrients the plant's health suffers. Anyone who's tried their hand at gardening has seen this when their plants need some fertilizer. In our bodies, the role of acquiring nutrients is fulfilled by our digestive tracts. The intestines are lined with tiny finger-like projections called villi, and on the villi, even tinier projections called microvilli. Their purpose is to increase the surface area of the intestinal lining to allow for greater absorption. These villi and microvilli are your roots. You might be wondering, then, what the soil is. There's two vital components to soil. One is the nutrients and the other is the microbiome. In our bodies, nutrients are provided by the food that's been broken down by the chemical and mechanical mechanisms of digestion. Not for nothing, the more of what you've eaten gets broken down, the more it resembles soil. Nutrients are essential for obvious reasons. They provide the building blocks for literally everything in our bodies. A nutritious diet is absolutely essential to optimal functioning, but that's another conversation for another day. The other part of the soil is the microbiome. This is made up of at least 100 trillion bacteria, plus fungi and viruses, and is only beginning to be understood by science. Both our digestive tracts and the soil of the earth depend upon the health of these microbes. Studies have correlated imbalanced microbiomes with multiple chronic diseases, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, cancer, IBS, anxiety and depression(1). So, not only is a nutrient dense diet important for health, but also is this incredible microbial community living inside of us! Sadly, our microbiomes are vulnerable to exactly the type of lifestyle that most in the modern world has become acquainted to. This includes inflammatory diets of highly processed foods, high sugar content, high trans-fat, and food that is laden with pesticides. It also includes the dependency on antibiotics for every sniffle, and the state of chronic stress nearly everyone operates in. Well, the good news is that in naturopathic medicine we treat the cause, and in this case the cause is clear as day. When we live in line with nature we return to an optimal state of health. This might mean big changes, but the best method is to make small steps. Start by listening to your body. Sickness and pain is our body's way of communicating with us. Feel a little bloaty after eating dairy? Your body wants to tell you something there! You can add one extra serving of fruits and vegetables a day, or switch from white bread to whole grain bread. If you've always been a heavy meat eater, give meatless Mondays a try. My favorite way to promote a healthy microbiome is to replenish your soil with the soil of the earth! Dig your hands into some dirt, spend some time in the garden, take a book underneath a tree and enjoy a relaxing bath in nature's own microbiome.
1. Wang HX, Wang YP. Gut microbiota-brain axis. Chin Med J (Engl). 2016;129(19):2373-2380. doi:10.4103/0366-6999.190667