The Human Ecosystem



Daphne Miller has built an international reputation studying how the natural ecosystem is linked to the human system. Right now, she is a leader in the Healthy Parks, Healthy People initiative that hopes to improve connections between the medical system and the National Parks Service. Miller also has been booked as one of the lecturers at this year’s PINC Sarasota event on Dec. 10, and she spoke with us in advance of her trip to this environment. 

How different is a natural ecosystem and the ecosystem of micro-organisms that exist in a human body?  This whole project began several years ago when I picked up a book on soil science and started to leaf through the chapters. Suddenly, it dawned on me that it was one of the most engrossing medical texts I had ever read. Its pages offered important lessons for how to rejuvenate, rebalance, and heal a complex living organism and the more I read, the more I realized that its principles could be applied to me, to my patients, to all of us. It turns out that the nutrient exchange between humus, microbes, roots and the plant is similar to what takes place in our own intestines. The chemical makeup of soil has roughly the same ratio of nitrogen-to-carbon as the human body and a similar range for normal ph (6.0 to 7.5). Like us, it too depends on bacteria and fungi to supply it with the fats, amino acids and carbohydrates that make up its structures. The carbon, nitrogen and every other mineral and vitamin that is a building block in our own bodies is derived from soil. In fact, we are not simply nourished by the soil, we are of the soil. 

I have heard both celebration of the natural medical solutions in holistic medicine and a condemnation of certain anti-science elements, such as anti-vaxxers. Do you hear comparisons of medical ecology with holistic medicine, and is it more commonly favorable or critical?  Medical ecology is really not the best description for my work. The transdisciplinary work that I do does not really have a name, but it  involves understanding how our own health is linked to other ecosystems. These days much of science is moving away from a mechanistic way of thinking and focusing more on the complexity of whole systems. Soon I think that this approach will be the norm rather than the exception. Also, with the recent breakthroughs in DNA mapping, electron microscopy, and so on, we are able to look at natural systems on many different levels—from the micro to the macro—and understand these relationships. 

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