Doctor’s Tip: How lifestyle affects our microbiome

This is the fifth in a series of columns based on Dr. Dean Ornish’s recent book “Undo It.” The book makes the case that our health is not determined so much by the genes we’re born with but by whether these genes are turned on or off. And to a large extent, that process is determined by our lifestyle.

Our microbiome — particularly our gut microbiome — is a key player in our health, and should be thought of as another organ system, similar to our brain, kidneys, liver, etc. Dr. Ornish is currently doing research with a leading microbiome scientist “to understand how the four components of our lifestyle medicine program — eat well, move more, stress less, love more — interact with our microbiome in healing ways.”

Humans have over 100 trillion organisms (bacteria, viruses and fungi) residing in our mouth, nose and gut; and on our skin (there is also a vaginal microbiome). The genes in all the organisms in our microbiome outnumber all the genes in our own cells by at least 100 to 1. Depending on our lifestyle, our microbiome can keep us healthy or make us sick. 

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