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Episode 66: Viruses Are Friends, Not Foes

Episode 66: Viruses Are Friends, Not Foes

Viruses. Does the word just make you want to lunge for a cleaning product and pull your mask a little tighter? On this mini-episode, Andrea talks to Dr. Keesha about why that reaction isn’t the right one to take when we’re talking about viruses. 

Viruses make up a huge part of our internal and external world, and only a very small number (seriously, like 1%) make us sick. Dr. Keesha breaks down the basics around the virome of our bodies, including what it is, why it’s critical to our survival and how we can live in better harmony with all of our microbes - even our viruses. 

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Andrea Wien: Welcome to The Microbiome Report powered by BIOHM Health. I'm Andrea Wien, and today we have a mini episode on viruses. We are talking about the virome. So you've heard of the microbiome, you've heard of the [mycobiome 00:00:21], perhaps. And today we're talking about the virome, the viruses that live in and on us that are just as critical if not more than the bacteria and fungi. This episode is meant to be short and sweet. We have Dr. Keesha on. You may remember her from past episodes on trauma and auto-immune disease. She is excellent and does a great job of breaking down the virome into something that we can all understand. Let's jump right in. Dr. Keesha, welcome back. Thank you so much for being here.

Dr. Keesha: I'm so glad to be here again.

Andrea Wien: So, you put together a webinar and there was some information in it on viruses and the virome that I did not know, and I think with everything that we've been experiencing this past year, viruses are obviously a hot topic. And I think we're in this place where viruses are being attacked in the same way that bacteria was when we had anti-germ theory. And so I really loved learning about our evolution alongside viruses. So I just want to jump in quickly and chat about what this looks like for humans and why we shouldn't all fear every virus. So let's start with the most basic. What is a virus?

Dr. Keesha: I love the fact that you're doing this because when I put together the webinar that you are referring to that I gave, I learned a bunch of new things too. And I did a bunch of research and I thought, "Oh, wow, I never knew this." "Wow. I never knew this." And I think this is an exciting time for people to learn new things about viruses since it's so up and present. A virus really is a little small envelope, a small collection of genetic code, either DNA or RNA, and it's surrounded by a protein code and it can't replicate by itself. It has to get inside of the cell and use the cell and it gives the cell information about the external world, and then it gets information from the cell and provides that to the external world. And so one of the things that I had not been quite so aware of about viruses is how essential they are for our evolution as a species, but then also life on planet earth and how well it gets along together as an ecosystem that continues to be interdependent and thrive together.

And when we're running around trying to kill viruses, we're really missing a huge piece of the picture.

Andrea Wien: People are very familiar, obviously with the term microbiome. We have mycobiome now, it's the fungal communities in the body, and we have a virome which, not many people have heard that term. So exactly what you're saying, it gives our bodies a tool to look at the outside world and see how to interact with it. But can you talk about how the virome interacts with our immune system and not just in the sense of, we might ingest or have exposure to a virus and then get sick like in the case of COVID.

Dr. Keesha: We found out the importance of the microbiome. We have these 100 trillion microscopic organisms. Everyone's listened to a lot of us talk about this, and they influence our immune system and they have all of this regulation of our mood and our weight and our energy and our cognitive function. And we have ignored the virome entirely. It feels like to me anyway. I don't know about you, but in my medical training, viruses were disregarded in that germ theory perspective and this piece of the collective of the ecosystem was not really emphasized. I don't know if that's true for you.

Andrea Wien: Yeah. I didn't know anything about it and I've never ... Even doing the show, I will say, no one has really mentioned it except maybe in passing when they say we have a microbiome, bacteria, fungi, viruses, protozoa, they kind of put it together in this chain of other things, but as its own entity it's not discussed.

Dr. Keesha: It has a big role in shaping our innate and our adaptive host immune defenses, which this is part of what we did learn. That we have this innate immune system and we have our adaptive immune system, and I work a lot with people with auto-immune disease and they've come to start being familiar with these terms. We have this innate immune system and we get immunity from our mothers through the placenta and we get it through breast milk. And then as we move into this adaptive response, there are studies that have come out post, I think, antibiotic revolution where germ theory, everything was bad. And now there's more of a moving toward this idea like, "Oh, there are studies that show that children that are raised on farms actually have fewer atopic allergies." "Oh, maybe dirt is not so bad and we don't have to cleanse everything the way that we thought."

Well, it turns out these viruses are part of that and it isn't just the bacteria, but it's also the viral component of all of this that's impacting and shaping how this immune response happens for us and how we acquire it and then keep replicating persistently throughout our lives so that we have a good immune system. The intestinal virome is essential for this. And again, I think it's been left out of the conversation and a lot of the research articles that I was looking at when I started first doing my research were dated in 2018. So it's not like this is old news. This is new news. We're really just coming up to this like, "Oh, we can't think about viruses the way we have been in the past." "Oh, this is actually really interacting with the other organisms on the planet." It's giving that information, like I said before, and it's impacting how our own immune systems respond because of the information that it gives to ourselves.

So it's really important that we respect viruses. Again, when we breathe, we're breathing in, it said sometimes more than stars in the sky. There are so many, trillions to the 10th power viruses and so when we really narrow down and we think about Epstein-Barr virus or we think about Corona SARS-CoV virus, and we think about only those as entities that are isolated outside of the virome, we're missing the boat. We really are. What it means is we've actually done something to our environment that has put it so far out of balance that now the environment is trying to give us information about our own activity on this planet that we're not behaving in an interdependent way. So it's always information that these viruses are giving us.

Andrea Wien: And you had such interesting statistics in here. So we talk about, you mentioned it briefly, the number of viruses. So you had a number, 380 trillion viruses are living on and inside the body right now. That's 10X the number of bacteria. So when we think about that, they can't all be bad, right?

Dr. Keesha: Right.

Andrea Wien: And you even said, I think there was 19 different strains of Redondovirus in the respiratory tract, some related to disease, but others actually help to fight respiratory illness. So some of these are just co-existing, some of them are helping you, and then very, very, very few are dangerous, which is really mind blowing when we start to position it that way.

Dr. Keesha: Well, one of the things that Ayurvedic medicine, the sister science of yoga, 10,000 years ago the Rishis in India are really studying humans and how they interacted inside their environment with one another and with the environment itself. And one of the things that they discovered is we're not all the same. And if you can think about it in that way, and they also said that as above so below, we are a microcosm of the macrocosm. And so when we think about a macrocosmic level of humans then, if we're the macrocosm and the virus is the microcosm, then you can look around the planet right now and you can see the polarizations that are happening. You can see that when one person misbehaves in a way that kills a lot of other people, it causes a whole bunch of trauma inside our human community.

Well, actually that's the exact same thing that happens inside of these [viromes 00:09:19 and microbiomes. And all ecosystems are the same. So we have these very, very helpful viruses that are helping prevent disease. And I think, again, like some of these studies I saw were not old, it was like, "Oh, this virus keeps you from having lung cancer." And, "This virus keeps you from having gastrointestinal cancer." "This virus is an information courier," and then when things get really out of whack, leaky gut, and we have these infections, this dysbiotic stuff that starts to happen and then we get an ecosystem and you have a gang of bad guys that move in, it's the same thing that you see on a human planetary level.

And so the thing I think humans really are missing is the fact that the viral community is exactly like the human community. So if we can look around and say, "Oh, if we learn how to get along together, if we learn how to be compassionate with one another, if we learn..." Then the way that our pH and our bodies, it will respond to a compassionate thoughtful process happening in the mind in our own bodies. And if we're acting in that way, if we're acting in a grounded, anchored, loving way, and we're not having thoughts that are fear based and anxiety provoking and angry, all of those emotions actually create a response in the body that matches them. So if you're angry, if you're terrified, then your adrenals are going to respond because your mind and its emotional [inaudible 00:11:13] is giving information to the rest of the body about how to behave next.

And those adrenals, when they respond, they send cortisol out so that you can fight whatever that bad thing is, or you can run away from it. And so when we do that consistent over time in a sustained way, which we're not designed to do, then that cortisol starts breaking down the gut wall. And when we have that gut wall broken down, then we have leaky gut and inside those little breaches in the environment, then we have more likelihood of having these infectious diseases occur, which really means an overgrowth of a potentially disease producing virus or bacteria or fungus that loves that hot tub of acidity.

Andrea Wien: Now, I had a question too, though. So unlike an antibiotic which wipes out everything, is an antiviral, I know for example I get cold sores sometimes so I will take on the onset of a cold sore, I'll take an antiviral. Is that similar in a broad spectrum or is that targeted and specific to a specific virus?

Dr. Keesha: Targeted to a specific virus inside of a lab, but then in the lab outside of that Petri dish, there's not an understanding of the context in which that virus actually occurs. And so it's the same thing. We target our antibiotics to certain bacteria and what we missed the point on was, "Oh, oh, there's a synergistic piece. There's a context inside of which this was occurring." And it's like carpet bombing. There's going to be some fallout around it and it's the same when we're doing any kind of targeted therapy like that. There's a synergy right inside of everything. And when we, I don't know, they say when the butterfly flaps its wings in China, you can feel it in the United States. There's a ripple effect, no matter what we do.

Andrea Wien: That makes a lot of sense. And I think we'll start to see more of that awareness coming around because to date, it has been just, "Oh, take this," or even with the vaccinations, we don't have a good understanding of how the viruses are really working in playing with everything else. So it'll be interesting to see how this continues to develop. And I know we're out of time, this is our mini episode, but as the science continues to grow, we'll certainly love to have you back on and continue to talk about viral evolution and what we know in the science.

Dr. Keesha: What you just said is this is an evolving area of science and we absolutely don't know and everything that's occurring right now that's unfolding in front of us is history in the making. We don't know much about the virome and with the vaccinations and how things are evolving, this is a giant medical experiment, and it will be interesting to see in the coming decades what our future versions of ourselves think about what's happening today.

Andrea Wien: Dr. Keesha, always such a pleasure. Thanks again for coming on.

Dr. Keesha: Thank you.

Andrea Wien: Thanks as always for listening. To connect with Dr. Keesha, head to I will drop her information there. And don't forget while you're over there, BIOHM gives all listeners of the show 15% off with their code POD15. Again, their website is and BIOHM is spelled B-I-O-H-M. I'm Andrea Wien and I will catch you next time.


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