Emerging interconnections of Ayurveda and Microbiomics How the fields of Ayurveda and Microbiomics can interwork with each other for robust well-being solutions

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One can say that in the field of Microbiology, discovering the microbiota profile of humans has been a monumental breakthrough since Louis Pasteur times. Each one of us is a superorganism with a host of microorganisms forming a major part of us. These tiny microorganisms work in tandem to make this giant homo-sapien species up and running. They interoperate among themselves and are highly interactive and respond to ecological cues too. The Human Microbiome Project for example tries to chart the types of microorganisms and their variations with the place of occurrence in the human body and their density. The project develops a microbiota profiling of sorts for our species inclusive of region, ethnicity, occupation etc., The human microbiome consists of 10-100 trillion symbiotic microbial cells, primarily bacteria in the gut. Compared cell-wise, the microbes living on and in the human body outnumber the human cells by a factor of 1.3:1 with a total mass of about 1-3% of the body they inhibit (for a 60-kg person that would be 0.6 -1.8 kg) [1]. These microbes inhabit all parts of our body which are exposed to the environment such as the mouth, vagina, urogenital tract, skin, airways and gut.

The Second Brain:

Interestingly, our microbiome profile is what makes us unique so much so that our human genetic diversity pales in comparison with that of the microbiome catalogue. In fact, a new-born baby is actually sterile with only it’s mother’s commensal bacteria signature added to its body during birth and breastfeeding. But later develops a unique microbiome profile through contact as it is continuously exposed to parents, grandparents, siblings, pets and generally the environment around which is crowded with bacteria. As the infant becomes one year old the microbiome, becomes one of the most complex ecosystems in the world, matures to an adult status. The microbiome diversity is also known to increase with time. 

Post one year of age nutrition starts to play a major role in the development and sustenance of an appropriate microbiotic ecosystem in each individual. Research points that even in infants there were significant differences between formula-fed and breast-fed in their gut microbiota which changed substantially with every new diet introduction.

The human-gut which is considered as the second brain due to the number of neurons present aiding in functions of digestion, absorption, assimilation and excretion is also a single point source where the majority of the microbiota are located. The gut-brain-axis correlates functionalities of the gut and brain and elucidates how they work in tandem. 3.3 million genes are reported to exist, compared to 22,000 genes present in the human genome. Human individuals are 99.9% identical to each other in terms of their own genome, whereas the microbiome of each individual can be 80-90% different from one another [1]. Thus it is an emerging concrete conclusion that what we eat determines who we become in not just the physiological but also the psychological sense.

The Ayurvedic View:

In the Indian traditional system of medicine and holistic health, Ayurveda categorises individuals based on natural states called as prakriti. Prakriti is genetically determined, categorising the population into several subgroups based on phenotypic characters like appearance, temperament and habits. The concept is claimed to be useful in predicting an individual’s susceptibility to a particular disease, prognosis of that illness and selection of therapy [2]. Prakriti classification is a robust framework which is accomodative of individual variations.

The prakriti classification of an individual is based on the preponderance of certain “doshas”. There are 3 main doshas prescribed in ayurveda viz. vata, pitta and kapha. These individual doshas are nothing but a combination of the five elemental fundamental principles manifested across all of this creation otherwise called the panchamahabhutas (ether/space, wind, fire, water and earth). Vata dosha a combination of wind and space is responsible for movement (muscular, nervous energy etc.). Pitta dosha, the one responsible for metabolism, including digestion in the gut, and cellular or sub-cellular metabolism is a combination of fire and water. Kapha dosha made of water and earth element is the “anabolic”, synthetic dosha, responsible for growth and maintenance of structure. Based on the predominance of individual doshas, there are three major types of prakriti named after predominant dosha, viz., vata, pitta and kapha. The prakriti is believed to be determined at the time of conception and is influenced by the milieu interior of the womb and the dietary habits and lifestyle of the mother [3]. These prakritis exhibit attributes of the dominant Dosha in physical, physiological and psychological characteristics. Swasthya or good health is the result of maintenance of an equilibrium among these 3 doshas. The disturbance of these doshas can lead to disease according to the prakriti of the person for example; a pitta prakriti person is described to be more prone to peptic ulcers, hypertension, and skin diseases, a vata prakriti person to backache, joint aches and cracking joints while individuals with kapha prakriti are prone to obesity, diabetes and atherosclerosis 

Recent Developments:

The Indic view of human existence has always been that of similarities between the universal and individual life cycles. That is we as a species operate in tandem with that of our interacting environment and both of which co-evolves. The fundamental principle(atman) is seen as that operating intelligence which sustains this creation and none of the manifestation is seen as an-atman (non-living). Along these lines one can understand that through the new found understanding of science of microbiomics ,where an individual human being is seen as a superhost of trillions of microbial cells which operate itself as a unit of creation or as an organ themselves, there is a lot correlation and inter-connections that can be made with the life science of ayurveda. Microbiomics research reiterates the fundamental principle of ayurveda emphasising on the fact that for creating a healthy gut environment an individual has to maintain the individual-specific microbiome.

In this light, recently there emerged a very important research analysis that points to mapping of the very influential microbiome diversity across that of gut, skin and oral samples with that of the ayurvedic prakriti classification. In the three different prakriti samples differential abundance of Bacteroides, Desulfovibrio, Parabacteroides, Slackia, and Succinivibrio was observed in the gut microbiome. The gut-microbiome profiling analysis also the presence of following microbes specific to each prakriti:

  1. Vata Prakriti: Carnobacterium, Robiginitalea, Cetobacterium, Psychrobacter
  2. Pitta Prakriti: Planomicrobium, Hyphomicrobium, Novosphingobium
  3. Kapha Prakriti: Mogibacterium, Propionibacterium, Pyramidobacter, Rhodococcus

Similarly, the oral and skin microbiome also revealed the presence of prakriti-specific differential abundance of diverse bacterial genera[4]. Bacteria known for preventing gut inflammation by digesting the resistant starch were abundant in the pitta prakriti individuals. Pitta dosha is known for aiding in digestion and other transformative processes, but an imbalance in this dosha also causes the individual to be prone to develop gut-inflammation-related and other metabolic disorders. In summary, human gut, oral and skin microbiome showed presence or high abundance of few bacterial taxa across three prakriti types, suggesting their specific physiological importance. The research classified according to the microbiome composition on parameters and compared to ayurvedic prakriti of individuals. This classification can now be used to determine what prakriti states are prone to what medical/disease condition and can be used to decide the course of treatment. 

Infact the gut microbiome profiling is proven to vary based on region, economical background of families, type of occupation. One study tried to map gut-microbiome data with extreme prakriti phenotypes in the western parts of rural India and found correlations [6].

From the disease treatment point of view there are already detailed ayurvedic treatment methods based on the tridosha frameworks. Knowledge about specific diet regimes based on prakriti, yogic exercises and use of medicinal plants endemic to individual race and region detailed in ayurveda can now be used according to the microbiomic profiling bridging the gap between ancient and modern and thereby providing impetus to translational medical research.

For example: Leading pre and probiotic research based on the science of microbiomics dealing with useful bacterias aiding oral, digestive health can now take insights from ayurvedic dietary patterns and medical routines. Most probiotic medicines focus on re-establishing the balance of good bacterias such as that of lactobacillus taxa which is predominantly present in milk and milk based products. The science of ayurveda deals with milk(kshira) in depth inclusive of the variety of sources such as that of camel, sheep, cow, buffalo etc., the types of fermentation and other milk based medicinal preparations [5].

This definitely is good news for the Indian ayurvedic community to vigorously look for areas of cross collaboration not only for scientific validation of scriptures but for engaging with the global community in transmitting the benefits of ayurveda globally. Such researches can go a long way in fixing certain disadvantages the areas of precision medicine and personalised medicine are facing today such as lack of research data along ethnicity, region etc., because ayurvedic sciences would provide for robust frameworks like the tridosha, trigunas etc., that would provide for a context of viewing health from different perspectives and thus arriving at breakthrough insights.

References:

[1] Available from: https://www.mymicrobiome.info/10-facts-about-the-microbiome.html

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3562518/

[3] Viman S, Charak S, editor. ‘8th Adhyaya’. 5. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Sansthan; 2001. p. 277. Available from: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_lookup?title=%E2%80%988th+Adhyaya%E2%80%99&publication_year=2001&

[4] Available from: https://www.ias.ac.in/article/fulltext/jbsc/044/05/0112

[5] Available from: http://www.jmnn.org/article.asp?issn=2278-1870;year=2015;volume=4;issue=1;spage=14;epage=21;aulast=Kukkupuni

[6] Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2018.00118/full

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