All you DID NOT KNOW About the Lung Microbiome – with Dr Teitelbaum – your SV Ayurveda Newsletter Nov 16, 2023 – #44, Vol 12

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~ Dr Marianne Teitelbaum

The word micro biome means the vast array or organisms that live in and on our bodies whose cells and genes carry out many functions necessary for life.

We are all aware of the gut micro biome as much research has been done on it over the past few decades and more and more research money is being given to deepen our understanding of this important factor in our health. In fact many micro biome centers are opening up around the country to further examine its implications for our health.

Recently advanced technology has enabled researchers to identify and study the inhabitants of the human respiratory system. They used to think that the lung was a sterile organ with hardly any bacteria in the lung in its normal state and only when you have a diseased state like pneumonia or cystic fibrosis would it become inhabited with bacteria. You would then use antibiotics to clear the infection out of the lungs.

Now researchers have identified that the lung has its own micro biome, which, even though it is much smaller than the gut micro biome, it nonetheless plays an important role in preventing diseases of the lungs. 

This makes sense because any part of our bodies which interact with the outside environment, such as the air, need a thriving balanced micro biome consisting of friendly bacteria whose one of many roles is to prevent infection. Again, this makes sense because the environment outside of the body is teeming with infection. This means that every breath you take there is infection in it, but our friendly bacteria are the first line of defense and they prevent these invading pathogens from doing us harm. 

As a result, there is a thriving micro biome in the gut, which is the largest micro biome in the body. But the skin also has friendly bacteria on it to prevent skin infections from taking hold. The nasal passages have their own unique cultures of friendly bacteria designed to prevent infection from growing there. In fact, the latest research shows that steroid nasal inhalers can kill this micro biome off, allowing infection to grow in the sinus passages. And these infections from the sinuses have been found to travel into the brain and are seen in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s. 

We also now know that there is a micro biome in the mouth, preventing all types of gum and tooth infections.The interesting thing to note here is that the lung micro biome seems to mimic the mouth microbiome in that it has similar bacteria inhabiting it. That too makes sense since when we breathe in the friendly bacteria in the mouth can travel into the lung and populate the micro biome there.

Now, what happens if the lung micro biome gets disturbed? Infection, inflammation and a diseased state can quickly set up as the micro biome no longer functions in a way that promotes health.

The next question is then: what would disrupt this normal healthy functioning ecosystem? The researchers have found that steroids, antibiotics, acid reflux medicines, vaccines, and birth control pills can wipe out the friendly bacteria in the lung micro biome. So can breathing in air pollution, ozone, diesel exhaust particles is harmful to the lungs, along with a processed food diet, exposure to cigarette smoke and poor quality air. Since we are bringing in hundreds of liters of air into our lungs every hour it is important that the air we breathe be as fresh and clean as possible.

A recent asthma study showed that a bacteria called pseudomonas, a dangerous pathogen, is more prevalent in people who have severe asthma but which is hardly seen in normal lungs. Also fungal organisms are also found in those with asthma. Here’s what happens: once you deplete the friendly bacteria with a round of antibiotics, infection can immediately start growing. And when the body is fighting infection, inflammation results, which is what asthma is — chronic inflammation in the lungs due to the chronic infection which is growing unabated in the lungs.

Here’s something even more interesting that the researchers have found. Some viruses actually go inside the bacteria found in the lungs and hide out there. When the person takes an antibiotic the bacteria die off causing the viruses to explode out into the lung creating a huge viral burden in the lung. So apparently antibiotics help initially but create bigger problems later on.

Another question we can ask is: what diseases of the lungs might one be vulnerable to if the lung micro biome becomes depleted? The answer is: asthma, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis, pneumonia and other lung infections, since essentially the immune system of the lung, the micro biome, is depleted.

Take asthma for example, doctors have always understood that chronic inflammation is what is causing the asthma, but no one ever really understood what was causing the perpetual chronic inflammation. They didn’t understand why the inflammation wouldn’t go away. Usually after a viral or bacterial infection the inflammation which results from the immune system attacking the pathogen will eventually go down after a short period of time. However, with asthma and many other lung diseases, the inflammation never goes away.

They have now found out that bacteria, viruses and fungi not only initiate the inflammation but can sustain it indefinitely since they are left unchecked to constantly multiply deep in the lung tissue, creating all kinds of infections, inflammation and diseases. 

Here’s another problem researchers are encountering: the main treatment to treat asthma is with inhaled corticosteroids. Now they see that these are the very type of medicines that deplete the friendly bacteria in the lungs in the first place, allowing chronic infections and inflammation to develop once the lung loses its immunity.

This same scenario of chronic infection causing inflammation is seen with COPD, chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Researchers at University of Chicago have been studying two religious communities in South Dakota and Indiana who live “back to nature,” where they are avoiding pharmaceutical use as much as they can, are raising their children on healthy home-cooked food and are allowing them to play outside in the fresh air on their organic farms coming into contact with the earth and soil which promotes a healthy gut and lung microbiome.

These children are not developing allergies and asthma at the epidemic levels seen in children who are exposed to the non-ending rounds of antibiotics and vaccines that most other children are.

The researchers know this much so far: the disruption of the gut micro biome in a critical window in the development of the immune system in the early childhood years leads to longterm chronic problems. And there are many different diseases that are being linked to disturbance of the friendly bacteria during this critical stage of life.

The original disruption from these medications occurs in the gut micro biome, but researchers have now shown that when you disrupt the micro biome in the gut, the largest microbiome, having the largest effect on our immune system, the ramifications are felt throughout the body. The gut micro biome isn’t just affecting the gut but can affect the immune response in the heart, the liver, the kidneys and of course, the lungs. 

Researchers have also demonstrated that the gut micro biome affects all the other micro biomes, such as in the lungs, due to the vast network of communication that occurs throughout all the microbiomes. Which means that if one micro biome gets disturbed, it can have far reaching consequences on the other microbiomes. 

We are finding evidence now that fungi and bacteria can even attach to the smog and air pollution that we breathe in, piggy-backing their way into our lungs. Even in areas where there are hog farms there are many particulates in the air that are being inhaled by the people in the areas around the farms. Several years ago I spoke to a pulmonologist from the Midwest who said that many people who live in these farming communities have some issues with their lungs due to the surrounding hog farms and the type of air pollution they create. And the constant spraying of pesticides from airplanes onto the fields only makes matters worse.

So the final question is, where do we go from here? How can we restore our lung and other micro biomes now that we have all taken some of these medications and have breathed in air pollution and other toxic fumes?

The research is still in its very early stages, but the first thing you can do is to replenish at least the gut micro biome after the use of these medications as quickly as you can using probiotics or home-made yogurt, buttermilk, lassi or takra. Studies have shown that improving the gut micro biome will in turn help the lung micro biome as well. 

We are just beginning to discover the names of some of the friendly bacteria inhabiting the mouth and the lungs and hopefully probiotics for these areas will be available for all of us to take because again, the micro biome in both the mouth and lung are similar.

Fortunately in Ayurveda we already have many successful treatments for the lungs. We have numerous herbs and herb formulas to clean the lung tissue, facilitate the repair of the individual lung cells, stop the reactivity of the toxins in the lungs, potent bronchodilators which don’t make the heart beat fast, and anti-inflammatories which work like steroids but will not destroy the friendly bacteria in these delicate mucus membranes of the lung and gut. 

We have a special mouthwash which prevents gum infections but keeps the micro biome in the mouth intact. The same is true for our nasya or inhaled herbalized nasal oils which keep the mucus membranes in the nasal passages well lubricated which allows the friendly bacteria to grow. We also have breathing treatments using herbal steams inhaled into the lungs and sinuses to gently destroy pathogens while keeping the good bacteria intact. 

One of my favorite herbal treatments, to be taken at the first sign of a cold or flu, is a formula of herbs which can knock out both bacterial and viral upper and lower respiratory tract infections without destroying the gut or lung microbiome. It is best to try these types of antiviral/antibacterial remedies first before using potent antibiotics. Reserve antibiotic and steroid use for dire emergencies. And if you do have to use them go to work immediately on restoring the friendly bacteria.

I can’t wait to see how we might treat diseases of the lungs differently in the future — instead of using steroids and antibiotics hopefully we can fix many of the chronic lung conditions by repopulating the friendly bacteria in the lung, allowing true healing to occur. It has been stated by Natasha Trenev, Founder of Natren Probiotics Company that “antibiotics were to the 20th century what probiotics are to the 21st century.” I think that she may be right. And as doctors grapple with new and improved ways to treat these diseases, they will eventually wind up using approaches that Ayurvedic doctors have used for centuries. Doctors who knew how to both prevent and treat disease while preventing dangerous side effects which if left unchecked can themselves cause disease. 

I hope this information gives you hope for healing your acute and chronic upper and lower respiratory conditions using alternative remedies which won’t create a bigger disturbance further on down the road.

Thank you,

Dr. Marianne Teitelbaum

Cinnaminson, New Jersey


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