Ayurveda and the Microbiome

Ayurveda and the Microbiome

“The human microbiome in terms of the six ayurvedic tastes – the story of (your) life from mouth to colon.”

by Coen van der Kroon, MA

Medical as well as nutritional sciences have recently introduced the ‘living’ concept of a ‘microbiome’. The microbiome is the total environment found in our gut, consisting of many living organisms who – in cooperation and coexistence with the human cells and systems – regulate our entire process of digestion and assimilation. According to recent scientific findings, this microbiome also influences – through various factors – our extra-intestinal process, both physiologically and psychologically. Correlations between a disturbed microbiome and – for example – depression have already been made, and research has suggested clear proof being available for this.

Though presented a being a new concept, in fact, Ayurveda has already worked with a very similar concept for millennia. At its very core Ayurveda defines Agni as a substance and a process which – in a human organism – governs and regulates the full, complete and satisfactory digestion, metabolism and assimilation of food, but also of emotions, thoughts, ideas and experiences. Agni in the body has its main seat in the digestive tract and is supported by the three doshas, both functionally and in terms of location (Kapha, Pitta and Vata stage of digestion).  The doshas represent biological forces and intelligence but are never defined as only or purely ‘human structure’, contrary to the dhatus, which are clearly part of – or at least substratum of – the ‘human cell clusters out of which the human body consists.

A closer look into Ayurveda also brings us from the three doshas to the six tastes, which – at first sight – only look as a random collection of tastes related to ‘taste areas’ as they present themselves on the tongue. The six tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent. However, these six tastes have a lot more value in them, the moment one takes into account the order in which they are presented, the elements they represent, the relation they have with the three doshas, and the connections they have with emotions. Also, they can quite directly be correlated to biochemical components and different digestive enzymes in our digestive tract. Saliva is not only sweet in taste but also governs (or starts) digestion of ‘sweet’ (carbohydrates). The colon does its final work in ‘drying’ feces as well as absorbing and assimilating gross minerals, a typical function related to the taste ‘astringency’.

In this presentation ‘life’ and its intelligence is reflected in words like ‘living’ and ‘bio’ in microbiome, biochemical and biological (bios = life in Greek language). ‘Ayur’  in the word Ayurveda also means ‘life’, and Ayurveda is the science of life. This science seems to have developed its own – but very accurate – concept (and language) of what we now see reappearing as ‘microbiome’ in modern scientific language regarding the gut, our own biological ‘center of life’, crucial in defining both how our human cell structures will be formed as well in ‘who we are’ as human beings on other levels than just the physical one.