Asthma and Microbiome Sharing – Rodney Dietert, Phd

World Asthma FoundationDefeating Asthma Series uncovers New Hope for Asthma Managementant

Asthmatics: Our understanding of Asthma and the way we treat it may soon be radically different from what currently exists, due to new research on the human microbiome and how the microbiome affects asthma.

In the sixth in a series of interviews with Rodney Dietert, PhD Cornell University Professor Emeritus, Health Scientist Head of Translational Science + Education for SEED and the Author of the Human Super-Organism How the Microbiome is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life we learn about:

  • Existing evidence clearly demonstrates an association between asthma initiation and the microbiome, both respiratory and gastro-intestinal
  • Regenerative Agriculture is good for the microbiome
  • A diet that is not diverse results in a depleted microbiome
  • People or animals with a depleted microbiome are open to getting some microbiome components from others and the environment around them


World Asthma Foundation:
Dr. Dietert, Can you talk about a) different types of microbiomes, and b) microbiome sharing?

Video interview: Asthma and Microbiome Sharing – Rodney Dietert, Phd

Dr. Dietert: I’ve had an opportunity to lecture at a couple of different conferences. I’ll mention them if you don’t mind. The Quivira Collection – Regenerative Agriculture Conference in Albuquerque and then the Organic and Natural Health Annual Conference was in Florida. You put those two groups together, again, the regenerative agriculture, farmers, ranchers, and scientists doing things in ways that we never envisioned in terms of integration.

They start with the soil, and they start with animals and insects and how you use them together in an ecosystem to really be productive as a rancher or a farmer but to really support the microbiome of soil, of the plants and the diversity of the plants because those are foodstuffs for their production animals. It turns out the more plants that you may have contributing to the diet, the more robust, in a sense, and diversified the production animal is and the phytonutrients that you will gain through the meat or through the milk or through the eggs from that production animal. It is mind-blowing, it is absolutely mind-blowing.

If you don’t mind just a short story, we have examples of that. You have something like the howler monkey in Vietnam, I believe, eats normally in the wild 57 species of plants. In Vietnamese zoos, they eat maybe 12. I forget the exact number but lower double digits. There are some effects on the microbiome. In the US zoos, they eat one plant species. Guess what’s represented in their microbiome which is a very severely degraded microbiome? Their microbiome becomes humanized with the microbes from the animal handlers.

Actually, the same thing happens in our lab rodents, our lab mice, and our lab rats. They are not like wild mice and rats living out in the wild. They are in a very constrained animal handling setting, and they actually acquire the animal technicians’ microbes to some extent. Investigators working on the immune system, for example, told me, “We were doing these great experiments everything was working and then they didn’t.” Turned out there was a new building built, and they moved their animals over there, or they changed all their staff in the animal facility.

It’s a lesson for us that if you’re in a depleted state, you will pick up microbes from your surroundings. One other point about that that’s interesting is that I talked about non-communicable diseases, NCDs. If I wrote that book now, and I am planning a follow-up book, I wouldn’t use that acronym because a lot of people ask me, they say, “I have asthma or I have Crohn’s. We’re not genetically related but my spouse living in the same household, eating the same food, same air, also developed it later on. Is there any chance these things are actually slightly communicable?” The answer is, more and more, yes, slightly communicable is probably right.

If you get a really depleted microbiome state like you’ve had Lyme disease or something, you have multiple extensive rounds of antibiotics and your household has a microbiome that has — you can argue which came first but — is an asthma microbiome or is a Crohn’s or something, psoriasis, yes, you are open to donation. It could be from your home or hotel room or an airplane but you’re open to something getting in. There are tipping points where there’s some evidence that it’s not like a regular pandemic but to some extent, to say it’s non-communicable is not quite right because we’re sharing microbes all the time.

World Asthma Foundation: Dr. Dietert, we certainly thank you for your time, all that you do for the microbiome and the community. Good afternoon, and thanks again.

Dr. Dietert: Well, and thank you for all you do with the World Asthma foundation, Bill. Pleasure.