The impact of the environment on the microbiome

by | Mar 12, 2023 | Life


Similar to the internal environment, our external environment also extensively affects our gut microbiome. The environmental toxicants and pollutants contribute to environmental factors, and they directly or indirectly can cause stress to the gut microbiota. External factors can lead to the alteration of:

  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative stress
  • Immune function
  • The gastrointestinal environment

Warmth, moisture, oxygen levels and pH levels are the four physical and chemical factors influencing the gut microbiome. For example, in most buildings, warmth and moisture are the biggest issues resulting in the growth of fungi. These fungi and bacteria can enter the ventilation systems and cause mass-scale illness and discomfort among workers. Therefore, it becomes essential to take the help of environmental consultants to keep air pollution and water sources clean and free of health hazards.

Similarly, factors like temperature, pH levels and availability of oxygen and nutrients will also cultivate more microbial growth. In addition, we should also be aware of air quality, water quality and soil health. People with low incomes are likely to live in polluted areas and consume contaminated water. Among them, children and pregnant women are at higher risk of pollutant-derived health problems. 


Exposure of an individual to pollutants in the air can alter his or her composition of the gut microbiome. This will play a pathogenic role in increasing the risk of diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders and other chronic illnesses. Thus, the overall health of your body is compromised in the long run. Air pollutants can be found in both indoor and outdoor air. There are six primary sources of air pollution: 

  • household cleaners
  • building materials
  • heaters and cooking appliances
  • HVAC systems
  • tobacco products
  • outdoor air pollution from factories and vehicles 

This is bad news for human health because as we continue to industrialize, we worsen the air quality worldwide. Increasing exposure to polluted air is linked to inflammatory intestinal disorders as this is the malfunctioning of one’s immune system. The immune system starts to attack its own body cells, causing gut inflammation. The major component of air pollution, black carbon, can dramatically change the growth pattern of bacteria and the way they form biofilms. This can, therefore, affect the survival of bacteria in the lining of airways and their resistance to antibiotics.


Studies have been conducted to confirm the link between drinking water and the composition of the human gut microbiome. Water is ranked among one of the key factors responsible for microbiota variation. This explains why the people who drink more water have less of a type of bacteria that cause gastrointestinal infections.

Many aquatic ecosystems near urban areas, such as lagoons or streams, are used for urban waste and industrial effluents. This mixture of contaminants can even cause physiological and functional alterations in fish living there. The understanding of the altered gut microbiome composition of fish could enable the assessment of the host’s health as well. This is because fish are not only closely related to various aquatic organisms but are also in contact with terrestrial animals through the predator-prey model.

Even the largest urban river within the border is the predominant water supplier for drinking. But since this river is overburdened by the discharge of medicine and domestic waste, this is what will reach our gut.


Microbes are not only associated with our personal health but are present in soil, water, plants, animals, insects, and earthworms. All these microbial communities are interlinked. As per soil is concerned, there are about 40 million bacterial cells in a single gram of soil. The interconnection of microbiomes in all these communities is why what we eat and how that food is produced is very important to our personal ecosystem. 

One of the classes of soil microbiome, mycorrhizal fungi, is significant in protecting plants against fungal disease. But as you all know, the use of fungicides in agriculture has increased extensively over the past decades. This results in the reduction of mycorhizal fungi in the soil. Consuming foods produced from this soil can damage our personal microbiome.

Besides the food produced, there are other ways to come in contact with the soil as we taste it, inhale it, and drink water that has passed through it. Soil can take in only a limited amount of these substances, at which point they are built up in the atmosphere rather than being absorbed into the ground. Soil pollution also leads to groundwater contamination, making it dangerous for people to drink.


  1. Reforestation

We need trees to clean and filter the air around us. Therefore, it calls for inculcating knowledge amongst our youth to plant more and more trees in their surroundings. 

  1. Eco-friendly fuel

The fossil fuels we consume for our vehicles and industries produce nitric and sulphuric oxides on burning. These harmful gasses are one of the major causes of air pollution and demand the usage of eco-friendly fuels. Some such fuels are LPG (liquefied petroleum gas), CNG ( compressed natural gas) and biogas.

  1. Industrial policy

We can minimize the toxins released from industries if we have strict policies for industries to filter the gasses released by them in the air.

  1. Keep large bodies of water clean.

Do not dispose of the waste material and toxic chemicals in large bodies of water, like the ocean or lakes. It should be dumped in a place from where it will be disposed of properly or recycled. One useful piece of advice would be to limit the use of chemicals like chemical fertilizers and switch to the use of compost.

  1. Improve soil health

Soil pollution is the contamination of soil with chemicals, metals or other harmful substances. It is a global issue and needs corrective measures. 

  • Avoid littering trash or hazardous materials in the park and limit the use of chemical fertilizers. 
  • Build up two-chamber septic tanks to prevent sewage from cities and factories from contaminating our soil.


Both short and long-term exposure to environmental pollutants has been associated with adverse effects on the diversification of our gut microbiome. So, adopt ways to maintain a cleaner environment for sustainable development.

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Dr. Bob Singhal

Professor Bhupendra 'Bob' Singhal, has taught creativity by joy and right-brain thinking, is a renowned international architect, won major design competitions, has over 70 awards, publications, and media mentions, and served as President of the American Institute of Architects South Bay. In 2011, in his book Joy in Health and Happiness: Your Optimal Path to Success, Professor Singhal wrote about the transformative power of joy and helped readers learn to enhance their daily experience of it.


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