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Summary

Join us as we discuss how exposure to dirt and time in nature are essential to supporting a healthy microbiome while learning the practices behind Terrain Medicine with Dr. Maya Shetreat. Dr. Maya goes into the history and stigmas that have followed 'germs' over time and breaks down simple ways we can support our health by introducing our microbiomes to more diverse environments inside and outside the home.

Dr. Maya Shetreat is a neurologist, herbalist, urban farmer and author of 'The Dirt Cure: Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child', which has been translated into 10 languages. She's been featured in The New York Times, The Telegraph, NPR, Sky News, The Dr. Oz Show and more. Dr. Maya is the founder of the Terrain Institute where she teaches terrain medicine, earth-based programs for transformational healing. She works and studies with indigenous communities and healers in Ecuador, and is a lifelong student of ethnobotany, plant healing, and the sacred.

To learn more about Dr. Maya Shetreat click here.

Highlights

What is Terrain Medicine?
  • Terrain medicine is the practice of aligning our bio terrain with our eco terrain resulting in a healthy and beautiful environment for both the body and the world
    • We all have 'bio-terrain' - our organ systems, DNA, epigenetics, our microbiome
    • We are surrounded by our 'eco-terrain' - water, soil, sun, wind, food
Practicing Gratitude and Awe
  • Gratitude practice has been shown to positively influence our physiology
    • Examples of benefits:
      • Reduced anxiety, lower blood pressure, minimized depression, lower cortisol levels, improved sleep and more
  • Getting back outside in nature
    • Try earthing/grounding - time outdoors is essential
    • Examples of outdoor benefits:
      • Lower cortisol levels, higher anti-cancer proteins, increased executive function, creativity, happiness and more
Dirt is Not Dirty
  • We have been raised in a world that teaches us that perfect hygiene is to remove bacterias and stay far away from getting "dirty" - that being sterile is important
    • A study in Europe showed that in home or schools that use more bleach the exposed children to those environments were more likely to have chronic respiratory infections
  • We were intended to come in contact with dirt and to get dirty
    • Germ diversity is essential for a healthy and happy life
Steps You Can Take Right Now
  • The simplest thing is to start by going outside
    • Take your lunch outside on a picnic blanket, sit on a rock, hug a tree
    • Take your computer outside and get some sun and breathe fresh air while you work
  • Home cleaning
    • Replace chemical cleaning products with natural cleaners - many of these you can make with just a few simple ingredients
Where to learn more about Maya Shetreat:
Connect with Kiran Krishnan and Dr. Nicole Beurkens on...

Timestamps

  • 00:00:30 Episode Intro
  • 00:01:30 Dr. Shetreat's Story
  • 00:05:34 What is Terrain Medicine?
  • 00:13:00 Practicing Gratitude and Awe
  • 00:20:51 Dirt is Not Dirty
  • 00:34:10 Steps You Can Take Right Now
  • 00:45:10 Episode Wrap-Up

Kiran Krishnan:

Hello and welcome to the Better Biome podcast where we explore the universe within.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

We're your hosts, Dr. Nicole Beurkens.

Kiran Krishnan:

And Kiran Krishnan.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

And on today's show, we're talking with Dr. Maya Shetreat about how exposure to dirt and spending time in nature is so important for a healthy microbiome. Dr. Shetreat is a neurologist, herbalist, urban farmer and author of The Dirt Cure: Healthy Food, Healthy Gut, Happy Child, which has been translated into 10 languages. She's been featured in The New York Times, The Telegraph, NPR, Sky News, The Dr. Oz Show and more.

Dr. Maya is the founder of the Terrain Institute where she teaches terrain medicine, earth-based programs for transformational healing. She works and studies with indigenous communities and healers in Ecuador, and is a lifelong student of ethnobotany, plant healing, and the sacred. Such a pleasure to have you with us. Welcome.

Kiran Krishnan:

Welcome.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Thank you for having me.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

So, I'd love to start by having you tell us about your career journey. You're trained as a pediatric neurologist, but your journey career has taken lots of twists and turns. How did you come to be doing the work that you're focused on today?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Sometimes, I think that we start out one way, and then there are a lot of layers we put over ourselves, because we think that, you know, and I'll say I think or I thought that I needed to do in order to be successful in the world. And it was like, "Okay, that's fine, I'm going to go to medical school, I'm going to do these things." I think I always was a very earthy kid. I was an only child.

I used to play outside for hours and hours by myself at a creek near my house, which people would probably never let their children do now as in the suburban neighborhood. And I just played in the dirt and built little things and made little, probably now we'd call them little altars with different bits of things and made potions. And really ultimately, I mean, I wanted to help people.

I loved healing work. And I ended up going to med school because I saw a special called Healing and the Mind by Bill Moyers back in the day. And it was about how we can use our mind to basically heal and get around using medication. And I wrote about it in my medical school essay, but they still let me in. But they still let me in!

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

Going to say they let you in.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Yes. It must have been a really compelling essay. And I'm still friendly with the doctor who interviewed me, actually. And yeah, and I went into medicine. And what I think re-awoke me to this whole who I really am, was my youngest son getting sick with asthma when he was a year old. And he initially was on steroids and antibiotics and inhalers and all these different things that really, in many ways, actually made him sicker than the asthma itself.

And it turned out he was allergic to soy. And we took that out of his diet. He did a lot better. But it was healing him from all these exposures that started me on a very long journey of not only healing him, not only healing my patients, but really coming more to my authentic self in the process, where I could re-embrace all these parts of myself that was related to dirt and soil and plants and herbalism and all these different ways that the earth heals us.

Kiran Krishnan:

You studied herbalism after medical school?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

I did. So, I had gotten interested in herbal medicine in college because I was coming down with something and I went to the health food store, right, down the street from Columbia University, and someone gave me echinacea. And it was the most amazing thing. If I took big doses of echinacea as I felt that head heavy, I'm-getting-sick feeling, it would knock it out every time and I was like, "Oh, this is fantastic." So, I was always interested.

I started learning about it on my own. But ultimately, I decided to officially train in herbal medicine. I did the University of Arizona's program for integrative medicine then went on to study more deeply at Dr. Tieraona Low Dog after that, because I really felt so drawn to it. I'd always been interested in plants. And what I discovered only recently is that my grandfather, who lived in a very small town in Morocco, in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, was actually the person of that community. Although he was a business owner and other things, everyone would come to him to ask him for the healing plants when they were sick. And he would go out into the field and he knew exactly what plants to gather. So, it's interesting, somehow, that re-awoken my DNA.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

It's in your genes. That's right.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

It's in my lineage. Yeah.

Kiran Krishnan:

Or in your microbes.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Well, they have very strong relationship, right?

Kiran Krishnan:

Exactly.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

You have started the Terrain Institute. I want to talk a bit about this idea of terrain and terrain medicine because I think that's a new concept to a lot of people. But it's really an important one. And it's of interest to us in terms of the things that we tend to talk about on this show, which is how so many of the things inside us and around us are all interconnected and really important for good health. So, what is terrain medicine? What are we talking about when we talk about terrain in this way?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Yeah. So, it's multi-layered. I think just from the most simple standpoint, we have a terrain inside of our bodies, our bio terrain, which includes our organ systems, right? All of our organ systems, our DNA, our epigenetics, our microbiome, all part of our bio terrain. And then, we're surrounded by our eco terrain, which is water and soil and seeds, and sun and wind, and our food, and in fact, also really the microbiome around us, right?

The soil, I mean, everything around us has a microbiome. The animals that we're around, our communities are part of our eco terrain. And so, really what terrain medicine is, or the practice of terrain is thinking about how we align our bio terrain with our eco terrain. When they're in alignment, then it's this beautiful, healthy environment. And when it's out of alignment, then we're sick and also the world around us is sick.

And what I learned, the more that I did this and the deeper I went, and looking at the science actually, is that our bio terrain and our eco terrain include also an emotional terrain, and a spiritual terrain. In other words, everything influences everything else. So, we can think, this is all physical and we can see it all.

But a lot of it becomes intangible like, the way, for example, our food or our microbiome influences our mood. Or influences our relationships with other people. So, there's a lot more to it. But in the simplest terms, it's our bio terrain in alignment with our eco terrain.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah. And that's solely on brand for what we talk about here. We always say that we're in constant osmosis with the world around us, obviously. We are really a microbial construct. And those microbes control the vast majority of what makes us human. And so, this concept that our bio terrain, our own microbiome, and its relationship to the eco terrain around it, all the other biomes around it, I think, is really a big part of the theme that we want people to understand.

So, to really give them something more tangible, can you give an example where somebody who may have focused on their bio terrain, they're doing a good job, but where the eco terrain is misaligned with their bio terrain?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Sure. I mean, there's a lot of different ways we could go about this one. But some simple examples are that we don't have total control of our bio terrain. So, we're being exposed to different kinds of chemicals. We might have taken antibiotics or even if you're eating certain foods that are contaminated by, let's say, Roundup, which acts as an antibiotic in our bodies. Different things, drinking unfiltered water, where you're getting traces of medications in your daily water intake, things like that

So, our bio terrain is not totally within our control no matter how much we want to think it is. And then, we might develop, the medications we take, or vaccines we get, all those different things that can influence us, you know. Even if we think we're doing it for our health, even if we think we're taking care of ourselves well, we could have allergies, we could have autoimmune conditions, things like that.

So, a way that we can realign with the eco terrain, it could be having a pet, right? People don't think about this, but actually, when you have a pet, you have a much more biodiverse microbiome, because you're experiencing and sharing your microbes. You're exchanging microbes and you create a whole new microbiome simply by your relationship with your pet. And your pet is outside, more in the soil, more in the grass, I mean, in many cases.

So, you're getting a whole more biodiverse microbiome, which is then going to help balance out your microbiome. Because really, one of the keys to having a healthy microbiome is biodiversity. So, we always think wow, we just want more, we want more bacteria. No. No, it's not about more bacteria. It's about diverse bacteria and many different kinds.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah. And that's a great example. So, the way I'm thinking about it, if somebody's listening, and they're really into being healthy and fit and they're going to the gym every day and they're eating what they think is presumably healthy, they're eating decent diversity of plant-based foods and meat and lean meats and things like that, but then the source of the food matters a lot because that eco component impacts their bio component. Right?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Right. Absolutely. And in The Dirt Cure, I talk extensively about knowing where your food comes from just in terms of, right, because we think, I mean, the average person in this country or around the world might think, "Oh, I'm drinking a cup of milk, that's healthy." Or, "Oh, I'm eating eggs, that's healthy." Or, "Oh, I'm having like whole grain bread or just whole grain something. And that's healthy."

But if your wheat, let's say, or grains were doused in Roundup, right before they're harvested, which is often the case, for example, with wheat, then you're going to have traces of pesticides there that can affect you in a certain way. Or fish, we can say, "Oh, yes, we should have a fatty fish each week, and also a white fish each week." But actually, the levels of mercury are documented to be high in both of those kinds of fish, you know what I mean?

In other words, what I always try to tell people on what I illustrate, I think, or hope in The Dirt Cure, is that we're not in a vacuum. And we can't assume that there's healthy choices that don't take into account how it's impacting our environment. Because if we're doing things that are polluting the waters, but then we're eating fish from those waters, then that's not going to be healthy for us. It's not healthy for the oceans and the fish and the polar bear, we could go into all the different things and think about the impact of it environmentally.

But really, we are at the top of the food chain. So, anything that's not healthy for the food chain which is nature is not healthy for us. So, this is about a relationship. And the Terrain Institute actually is all about teaching people how to reestablish a relationship with the natural world because it's so influential in our health, in our well-being, and I think also, the careers of professions of the future, starting now, we really need to always be taking both of those things into account.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

What are some of the things you feel like have been lost with that? Because I mean, I look at this, and you look even over the past several generations, and I see people and particularly kids getting further and further and further away from even, you were talking about growing up and being out in the dirt. I mean, we spent hours outside.

And we think about our grandparents' generations, we used to be more connected to things in the environment around us. And that seems to have really shifted. What are some of the things you see there? And what are some of the impacts of that?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Well, if you're asking what I think is missing right now, I would say, and the first thing that came to mind when you said that was gratitude. That's just where I went right away. And I would say awe. Gratitude and awe are not just nice feelings that we have. They're actually well-documented to influence our health in profound, profound ways. And things like productivity and creativity, right? These are profoundly as important as your B12.

Having a healthy microbiome is to practice gratitude and experience awe. And these are gifts that we can give to the natural world and also receive from the natural world. So, I think first and foremost, some of the data that I teach in my program is about gratitude and what actually happens to our physiology, and there's a lot of research from the HeartMath Institute.

It's anything from reducing anxiety, and having lower blood pressure and less depression, things like that, and having lower cortisol levels, better sleep, all of that, to literally having fewer psychotic episodes, and stabilizing bipolar disorder. I mean, things that we think of in our society and conventional medicine as drug related, the only thing that's going to solve this problem is a pharmaceutical, no gratitude practice. Gratitude practice, how profound is that? And the natural world is the teacher for us.

Really, that is the first teacher and the eternal teacher of things like awe and gratitude. So, that's number one. But I think there's also a tremendous amount of benefit that we get in terms of things like earthing and grounding and just being in nature. There's so much fear now around, I mean, everything from actually getting dirty. Right? Getting dirty to stranger danger to people getting injured, right, or getting tick bites, that's a big one.

And I talk a lot about that with people. But all of those kinds of things. And so, people have separated themselves because they think that they're safer indoors. And the irony is that because our exposure to nature is again, it's like a nutrient, it's more than a nutrient, obviously, but I mean if we said, "Oh, I'm just going to eat no protein and no carbs forever," you know what I mean? It's like, we can't actually function in a healthy way. And so, it's like a deficit, it's actually a deficit.

It's not like you can just eliminate that and be healthier. And in fact, what we know through tremendous kinds of literature, diverse ways of knowing, is that being out in nature is actually harmful to us. So, it's like about getting over that fear. It's about re-immersing ourselves in all kinds of ways. I talk a lot in the Terrain Institute about rewilding, how to do that, and getting these benefits from being in the natural world, including things like better executive function, better sleep, more creativity, feeling happier, objectively happier.

Also, lower cortisol levels, higher anti-cancer proteins. I used to think, "Oh, the microbiome is so important. That it can do all those things." And it can and it does, but I think it's actually so much more than that. And what I do in my working out, for example, is I traill run. So, I do other things like lift weights and I box. But I always, many times a week, I'm running in the woods. And that way, I make my workout part of my nature time.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah. Going back to what you said earlier about gratitude and awe, I love that you brought that up, because my son is now nine. One of the things we used to say about him as he was growing up is that every day was the greatest day of his life, right? And it was because of that awe, and we would take him out. We'd go out, and he'd see a caterpillar. And it's like the craziest, most amazing thing he's ever seen, right? And so, it's natural, it's innate in kids to have that awe and be fascinated by things.

And then, also feel gratitude about it. He would naturally be thankful for those experiences, right? And we saw that light and shine in him. And of course, now as he gets older, and he's more geared towards things like video games, and all that, which we try to pry him away from, you see a loss of some of those things. So, I feel like the way society is built, in a word, deprogramming those two really basic concepts, right?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

It's intentional, I think. I don't think that that is by accident. I think that when you're connected, and this is what my next book is about. But when you are deeply connected to the natural world, there's a guidance and a connection to the cycles and a sense of your own purpose and a sense of what's the most important. And when we are separated from that, it's easier for us to be, how can I put it, it's easier for us to be distracted by things that are less eternal.

You know what I mean? Because being connected to the natural world is very practical. And it's also very spiritual. And it's very emotionally healing in its ways. So, when we don't have those things, it's like we're searching, we're searching, we're searching, and we feel really lost and lonely when really, we're surrounded by, what I say is, we're surrounded by family. The natural world trees and plants and animals are, in a sense, our family, our eternal family.

And they're waiting for us to connect with them. And that's what that gratitude and awe is, right? We don't speak the same language exactly. But that's a common language. And people will sometimes see me as a four-year-old because when I'm outside, I am always in this state of awe and gratitude, which I think can be fun for some people, but also can be like, "Why is she so? I thought that only kids are like that."

But I think when we reclaim that, I'm not sure I ever lost it, but I think a lot of us have because it's been deprogrammed. And I think when we reclaim that, it's so joyful. It's a way that we can experience joy at any time. I mean, the sun comes up every freaking day. The sunset can be beautiful any day no matter how crappy things are. I mean, you just have to turn on the television right now and be like, "Oh, God." But I can still always just go outside and see beautiful cloud patterns or enjoy a hard pouring rain in the middle of the summer and just get wet or be with my chickens. Whatever it might be or see a bluebird and just totally be taken somewhere. Like, wow, this is an incredible world and I need to show up for it. And I can show up for myself because I have all these gifts around me.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. And despite the similarity in the words, I'd like you to talk a little bit about why dirt is not dirty. Right? That's the biggest issue, I think, with people because when you talk about The Dirt Cure, and when we encourage people to go out in nature and get themselves, what we use the word, dirty, but it's not the same sense, and not the same meaning of the word when somebody's dirty in, let's say, a public bathroom.

They would equate being present in the public bathroom or sitting on the floor, they're sitting on the dirt, that sense of dirt is dirty. How do we explain to people that that's not equivalent?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Well, so it starts with this idea of hygiene. And really, it takes me back to Louis Pasteur, actually, I'm going to go back a little bit. So, the father of pasteurization of milk, who really first discovered the germ or at least was set to. And he made a big deal of these invisible entities or invisible to our eye entities that are lying in wait until it attacks you and multiply and take you down. And so, that was the germ theory. And he had this other frenemy, I would almost call it, who was one of his colleagues, who had differing opinions.

And he said, "Actually, the microbe is nothing, it's the terrain that's everything." In other words, it's not about the germ, but it's about the person who has the germ. And he talks about the terrain. And that actually was, I think, the beginning of that word for me. And so, this idea that we have these dangerous, dangerous germs, people will ask me, what's the difference between a germ and microbe, and I always say, "Just germ is a pejorative term for microbe."

There's almost none that I can think of that are bad, bad germs or a few. But really, it has more to do with, are you vulnerable? Is your body an environment that is really the right environment for that particular organism to grow out of control? And that's why diversity is so important because I say like, the more communities you have, the less any one of them can really grow out of control. So, what does this all have to do with getting dirty?

Well, at the time of Claude Bernard and Louis Pasteur, people were so afraid of microbes that they stopped eating yogurt and sourdough bread, fermented foods that were actually how people had survived since the beginning of time, right? We had to ferment our foods. And they said, "They're contaminated. We're not going to eat that anymore." Well, now we know that that's obviously incredibly harmful. But we just went way in the wrong direction.

And we have really gotten to this idea of hygiene and staying sterile and being clean as being the most important thing. But it turns out that if you use a lot of bleach, so there's a study that was done in Europe, using bleach a lot at home or in, let's say, a school, those kids are more likely, not less likely but more likely to have chronic respiratory infections.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah. That's the Finnish allergy study.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Right? So, that is just like turns a lot of things on its head, right? The cleaner that you are, actually, the more likely you are to have a less diverse microbiome. And so, this idea like, look, if I'm on an operating table and someone is cutting into me, I want it to be sterile. I think we can all agree on that. But if we're out in the world, we're intended to be in constant contact with soil, with the dirt, with getting dirty, that's actually a positive thing.

And I really want people to see it that way. Because our floors were dirt floors for most of time. It's only very recent that we have this real idea that we should be totally separated from that. So, it's actually all about really getting dirty. That is what I tell people all the time is, in one teaspoon of soil, there are as many microbes as there are people on the planet.

And that's the ultimate probiotic. Right? And now, we know, people are going and purchasing pills that are filled with microbes. And sometimes, there's certainly a time and a place for that. And I certainly prescribe it in my practice. But I also say, "Get outside."

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah, yeah. Bringing up the idea of the microbes and the sterility that we try to achieve in this modern society, where we mistakenly think that that's what clean is, right? As a microbiologist, I often get interviewed by different sources to try to provide information on microbes. And one was an article for US News and World Report and I ended up doing a calculation for what percentage of bacteria ever discovered are actually harmful.

And it turned out to be, based on my calculation on all bacteria ever discovered, it was like 0.001% are actually harmful. All the rest are either benign or beneficial in some way. And so, the purpose of the article was, how do we deal with these antibiotic resistant bacteria, this post-antibiotic era that we're coming up to. And really, at the end of the day, the only way to control the 0.001% that is harmful is to allow the other 99.99% to flourish.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Same with people, right?

Kiran Krishnan:

Same with people, exactly.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

There's some harmful people. And if we have enough people who are really good, compassionate, kind, people who are working for truth, and beauty and joy in the world, those few people can be pretty insulated. If you have this thing where everyone feels like, "Oh, no, they're these bad things. And we can't speak out because of those bad things," and that just allows the bad things and bad people to multiply. I mean, it's incredible.

And I think it's funny, I mean, sometimes, I think about those harmful bacteria, first of all, organisms, number one, we just might not have figured out yet how they could be beneficial. Right? That's one possibility. But also, I would say, a lot of them, we have created ourselves. These resistant organisms actually are things that we ourselves have created in hospitals and other places. Being in a hospital is one of the most dangerous places you can be because of these resistant bacteria that we have created.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

And from the very beginning of antibiotics, from the beginning, there were resistant organisms. And we've only in this war with organisms. And how crazy is that? Anytime we're talking about a war on anything that's in our body is like, what?

Kiran Krishnan:

That we're made out of.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Right. It's like, why are we in this war? Why are we not thinking about - how can we be in alignment? How can we be in alignment and make a really beautiful environment so that these organisms, which are a universe inside of our universe, an outside of our universe… How can we be in a beautiful alignment with these organisms? I mean, there's so much spin.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah, there is. And there's a lot of money to be made in killing microbes, right? I mean obviously, the antibiotic side of it is one. And of course, there are numerous occasions where antibiotics are lifesaving and necessary. But there's also the vast majority of it, it seems, even from the CDC's estimation is overuse, and use in wrong situations.

But the Clorox company will have you think that killing 99.9% of all germs is a good thing, right? That's a marketing claim. Whereas, the idea really is that 99.9% is going to keep you safe from anything that may harm that, right?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Right. So, we have to flip that idea on his head and say, "Hey, these are our friends." And I mean, I think that's part of what I really want to communicate to people, is whether it's animals, whether it's plants, whether it's the literally germs and microbes, and I put them together for a reason when I talk about them - that these are actually all living entities that offer a relationship that we can be in relationship with. And that is how you are in alignment, right? And we can benefit so beautifully one from the other in so many different ways.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

It's such a different way of thinking about it, though, because typically, whether we're talking about Clorox or antibiotics, or when you said the war on things in that language even is so damaging, I think, to people's health, that idea that there's a war going on inside of us. But we've been conditioned to think about going after these things that are wrong, or are harming us, like the certain infection, or the certain condition that I have, or the certain way that I need to eat.

And what you're really talking about is true health is creating a bio terrain, creating within ourselves something that allows all of these good things to flourish. And it's not so much about focusing and going after the bad, it's about creating something within us and in relationship with our environment that allows good health to flourish. Right? And that's a really different idea for most people.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Absolutely. I think that what we've been led to believe, and I was too in medical school, certainly the model of medicine is that it's just a matter of time before you're hit by illness or disease. And what I believe is that our bodies want to be healthy, I tell this to parents all the time and people in my practice, is that our natural inclination is to actually be resilient and healthy. And so, sometimes, you just have to get out of the way of our body. A lot of what we do, I mean, I could come up with so many different examples of this.

I would think about, even though this is a little bit different, I think about how we try to control women's menstrual cycles using birth control pills or control labor in a very particular way, because we want it to fit into something that we understand and we can control. We actually don't know better than the body. We don't know better than nature. So much more complex. And every time we think we know it, every time we're like, "Oh, now we know," it's like, no, we don't know. And that's the beauty.

I think one of the things that I think nature really teaches us also that I really try to communicate and show people and help them experience is the beauty of mystery, right? That we're always learning more. The science is never settled, it's never settled. And that's the beauty of science. And that's the beauty of nature. And that's the beauty of our health. It's like, we're always in a conversation with the natural world.

And a lot of things are invisible to us that, whether it's our microbes, or this sense of awe and gratitude, those are invisible things, but they're very tangible. How do we have a relationship with this invisible world? And how do we think about it differently, where we're really creating a beautiful environment for health? And I think going back to this idea of killing 99 point whatever percent of all germs and bacteria, well, right now, right, and one of the big, big topics in science is psychobiotics.

And I'm sure you have talked about that here in the past. But this idea of the next generation of mood pharmaceuticals is all based on microbes, that there are microbes. And I do talk about it to some extent in my book, and whenever I give talks is like, these microbes are influencing our mood, our anxiety, our cognition, our cravings, who we love. I mean, anything you could think of that you would normally attribute to your own-

Kiran Krishnan:

To being human, right?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Your own self, right? Your own consciousness is shared in some way. It doesn't mean it's not you, but it's you as a community, right? And we are part of this community that helps influence all these different ways that you walk in the world, and who you are. So, why would we think I want to kill 99 point whatever percent of these organisms when in fact, we're now taking pills - certainly, to help us with these probiotics.

I mean, I always say, like, "What would have happened if you would have said to your doctor 15 years ago, I'm taking billions of bacteria in a pill every day on purpose. Or if your doctor would have said that to you." Right?" I mean, that just would have been insanity. And here we are now not just saying that, but saying, "No, these are actually members of a community that influence everything about who you are as a human."

And how effectively you walk through your life and how kind, compassionate, intelligent, creative, all the things that we're like, "How can I be more of these things?" Powerful, I mean, whatever you want to talk about, organisms are doing that. And so, how wrongheaded is it to say, "Well, I want a thing that's going to kill 99 plus percent of those organisms.

Kiran Krishnan:

Right. It's really backwards. Talking about aligning your bio terrain to your eco terrain, what are some things people can start doing just tomorrow to try to bring themselves back into alignment with it?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Well, so the simplest thing is to have contact with nature. And it can be anything from taking a walk in the woods or in a park. I live in New York City. And I happen to live in a very green corner of New York City. So, I'm blessed in that way. But there are parks everywhere, in almost every urban area. So, you don't get a pass. Because you live in an urban area. And certainly, if you're not in an urban area, there are places available to you.

So, it could be as simple as you have a few minutes to eat or have a snack or answer emails. And you go and find a little patch of grass somewhere and sit down, put a blanket down or sit down on a rock, right, where you're experiencing the electromagnetic radiation of the earth, which is a beneficial thing that we want to experience this flow of electrons, this constant, unending flow of electrons that actually reduces our inflammation in our body, helps us feel good and calm and grounded. That's a real thing.

So, it can be as simple as just sitting outside. I tell people to hug a tree. I hug trees all the time. And I personally don't care if it looks stupid, but I actually don't think it looks stupid at all. And I think it makes other people feel like they want to hug a tree too. So, I'll do that. And I posted on my social media all the time. But I mean, I'll go and I'll just embrace a tree. And people who walk by are always like, smile and are happy to see that, and maybe then they go do it too.

But your experience, you're sharing a microbiome with that tree. And you're connecting and feeling that groundedness. So, these are simple things. Gardening is obviously incredible. And you can grow things in pots inside, but you can also just get outside, whether it's community garden. If you have a house, it's easier. If you have a building, sometimes, there are little patches around you can influence in some way. And I really, really encourage any of these kinds of things, walking, taking a pet out for a walk.

I mean, there are simple, easy ways to integrate this into our lives. You don't have to, as I say, travel to Ecuador or Morocco or some rural place to have experience. Obviously, I encourage that. And for me, like, I feel I can only survive in a city because I spent so much time in the green. I wouldn't survive, I feel. So, I garden. I keep chickens. I have a little urban farm where I grow medicinal herbs and food. I trail run every day. I go and meditate and pray in the woods that, luckily, are right by my house.

I teach people in nature as much as I can. So, there's a lot of ways, though, that it's just simple. It's just simple things that we don't think about. I tell kids, when it's nice weather, take your computer outside, and just sit outside and get some sun. And when I talk about the sun, I don't say get some vitamin D. I mean, get some sun. Have that experience. Breathe that fresh air. Breathe the wind. Be connected. Stimulate that microbiome.

Kiran Krishnan:

What about cleaning your home? So, a lot of people listening, if they're going to clean their home, they're going to go home and spray down all the surfaces with Clorox and try to get that clean, sterile smell that we think is the right approach. So, what about that ecosystem within your home?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Yeah. So, I think I probably have some little spray bottle of bleach somewhere in my house. And I think the only time I ever take it out is if someone has a horrible gastro vomiting illness, I might clean the bathroom afterwards with that. But I'm not even sure that I have it anymore. And I really use natural cleaning products, very natural, including vinegar. And I save my orange peels and lemon peels.

And cut them and dry them and then put them into vinegar to help. There are amazing books about making all kinds of cleaning solutions, but it's actually so easy. And the smell of vinegar goes away pretty quickly. It's like certainly no more disturbing than the smell of bleach. And then, shortly after, the smell is gone, and if you put a couple drops of essential oil, it'll smell faintly of essential oils. So, things like that, I'm always looking for the most natural things.

And the reason why is because I don't want chemicals that are going to actually destroy the bacteria. I think there's also this idea that we equate being clean with being good, with being successful. We have this whole construct that we've created around how clean, how germ-free, and how hygienic is my home. And what I want people to understand is that it's actually not a recipe for success. The recipe for success is to have a biodiverse home.

So, if you have a pet, that's actually fantastic. I mean, this doesn't mean filth. Okay? It doesn't mean being actual having dirt and piles of dust. And of course, we do need to sweep or vacuum because we have toxic dust from different things. I mean, there are reasons to be clean. But clean and hygienic or sterile are not actually the same.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

It's like the difference between clean and sanitized, right? We've over sanitized our environment. We have a clean environment, but not be out there to try to kill everything. I wonder about too, you talked about doing some indoor pot gardens and things like that, maybe on your deck or inside. But what about like bringing plants in? Animals, plants, those kinds of things, is that helpful in the environment indoors?

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Indoors?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

Yeah.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Absolutely. So, plants, there are basically every plant, I would say. And you want to be careful if you have pets or little kids about plants that could be toxic for them to eat. Either keep it out of reach or don't have those particular kinds of plants. And that's actually easy to look up. But yeah, plants actually are cleaning the air. I always tell people, I mean, plants certainly do. Animals, yes, because we're sharing the microbiome.

And there is data that if you have animals in your home like dog, let's say, when your child is very, very young, they are less likely to develop allergies and probably many other things because allergies kick off a lot of other kinds of inflammatory processes that lead to autoimmune disease or all kinds of other issues. So, your kid is less likely to develop allergies. And I actually think it's probably not just kids. I think it's most of us.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

So, I mean, part of why I love keeping chickens is because when we go gather the eggs, if I send my kids out, they're getting the whole microbiome of the chicken. Right? And that doesn't mean go roll around in the chicken coop, but it means we're getting a whole different angle, a whole different array and profile of microbes. Not to mention that it's so incredibly joyful. And chickens are just so cool. I can talk about that.

But yeah, I think we can bring these things into our homes. And I always say to people, "Think about if someone ever gave me flowers, how does that make you feel?" And there's a reason that we give people flowers when we love them, or when we are grieving, or when we're celebrating, right? It's because plants actually change us. And they help us feel happier and better. And it's nourishing to us, again, in this another invisible way that we don't have language around and trying to create that language now.

So, when we have those kinds of contexts, it also changes how you feel. So, your house will feel happier and more joyful. And that's another important element of having a clean home is like having an energetically lighter, more joyful place. And that when you bring plants and many times, animals into your home, not in all cases, but in many cases, you do have that experience of more joy.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah, and the joy reduces stress and all of these biochemical effects that happen that are quite well validated by science. And yet, so much of it is just instinctual for us, right? We know that there's oxytocin release when you compliment somebody else. Or when you get a hug, there is a biochemical explanation for why that is so good for you.

And what's exciting to me now is that because we're studying microbes so much with the microbiome and all of the amazing things that we're discovering there, we are validating a lot of the natural behaviors that we tend to have an instinct to perform. And we're explaining them through microbial interactions, or hormone interactions and so on.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Well, I would take it even a little farther. Yeah, absolutely. I mean, science's job is solely to try to catch up with the magic. Right? The magic of the world. So, absolutely. And it's exciting when we can do that. I would take it even a little farther and say, "Okay, we have this science now, which can give us permission to do things that make us feel joyful." Because think about this, and we could talk about corporate driven science and how much of science is actually funded in a corporate way.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

And why that we might be guided with the science to do things that might not be as great for us sometimes. But I think for a lot of people, they feel like just as an example of having a more joyful home, right? And having flowers or plants are different things and then feeling less dirty, or I shouldn't, or who knows what, is like we just accept like, "Oh, my home, I don't feel that happy. It is like a heavy place. And I feel tired here."

In other words, sometimes, we can have permission. "Oh, I should go outside in nature, this thing that I love. Or I should have plants and flowers in my home. I can have those joyful things. I can have these things that make me feel in awe and gratitude and joy and really enrich my life. And actually, at the same time, those things are doing these important things for my health and my well-being and my ability to achieve in the world."

So, it's like, win, win, win. And that's, I think, where having the science and us talking about this in this way with the backgrounds that we have is really important for people to hear and internalize and understand that we have permission. We have real permission, there's a million reasons why you should do things that make you feel good and joyful and get you out into nature.

Kiran Krishnan:

Yeah.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

Love it. We could talk all day about this. Such big concepts and so important. I want to make sure that you share with people where they can find out more about your institute, about the work that you're doing.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Absolutely. So, the Terrain Institute is really the big work that I do. I mean, I still see patients as well and guide them through these exact kinds of issues. But the Terrain Institute is actually a certification. There's a certification, which basically helps prepare people to take all of these different concepts into their personal and professional life so that if they're a teacher, they are able to navigate all of these issues and bring that into their classroom and their institution.

We've had people who are politicians. We've had people who are teachers, professors, doctors, people from all walks of life so that they are bringing in the natural world into their world. And they can find it on drmaya.com, D-R-M-A-Y-A.com. And everything is there, all spelled out.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

And The Dirt Cure is available on Amazon on your website, because that's a great book too that I really recommend that people check out.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Thank you.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

Absolutely. It's been such a pleasure having you with us today. Thanks for taking the time to be with us.

Dr. Maya Shetreat:

Thank you for having me.

Dr. Nicole Beurkens:

And thanks to all of you for joining us for today's episode of the Better Biome Podcast. Tune in next week to continue with us as we journey through the universe within.