The human body is a marvelous work of art. We literally mimic nature in so many ways that there is no denying the connection between our environment and our health. The unique synchronicities of the human body and nature also provide insight into how we can navigate health and disease. Fractals are a part of this unique synchronicity. Geometrically, fractals are defined as patterns that repeat at different scales. They are all around us and within us.
Fractals can be found in nature as branching trees, diverging rivers, and veins on a leaf that repeats into larger patterns. Upon visualization of a tree, we see that the main trunk separates into branches that further divide into more branches, and so on. Geometrically, a tree is a series of repeating patterns through repetitive branching segments that eventually end with leaves. Fractals in nature are ordered even though they seem randomly repetitive.
Fractals in the Human Body
Fractals are found in the lung, gastrointestinal system, brain, and circulatory system in the human body. Our circulatory system is very similar to veins on a leaf or branches of a tree. The purpose of this segmenting is to create ample opportunity for the system to rebound. It’s as if nature ensured a built-in resiliency mechanism through the fractal geometry of the human body. As a matter of fact, when segments of our circulatory system are beginning to close off due to atherosclerosis plaque, we will actually start to form new vessels, a process known as angiogenesis. The process of angiogenesis allows our body to continue with its daily functions. This also occurs in nature.
When trauma occurs to trees, they can actually form new branching segments near the injured section. In horticulture, when you want to segment your plants and grow new branching segments, you can induce trauma to the main trunk, a process known as notching. This is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of its species. The repetitive patterning of fractals speaks to the functionality and capacity of that specific organism.
Fractals of our Gut and Lungs
Take our lungs, for example; the total lung volume, when filled with air, is approximately 6 liters. However, literature demonstrates that the actual surface area of our lungs is equivalent to half the size of a tennis court. Fractals are intelligent patterns that allow for enhanced spacial capacity within a system - our lung surface area changes based on inhalation and exhalation. According to the American Lung Association, the total length of airways passing through our lungs equals 1,500 miles! Yes, that’s one-thousand and five-hundred miles of airways within our body. The lungs inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, while trees do the opposite, inhaling carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen. We are mirrors of nature. In our gut, fractals exist as our villi. Villi are always described as finger-like projections emanating from the lining of our small intestines. Upon close microscopic inspection, each villus has microvilli, which look exactly like villi, only smaller! These tiny projections increase the amount of surface area in the gut to ensure optimal absorption of intestinal contents. The surface area of our gut mucosa has been estimated to be the size of a tennis court, approximately.
Nature and Nurture
The gut-lung axis is similar to the soil-plant axis with its unique fractal geometry. The nutrition from our dirt is vital for a healthy tree root system. Soil erosions, improper fertilization, lack of healthy soil, and pathogens in the soil can all affect the health of a plant organism such as a tree. Similarly, a lack of diverse bacteria in the gut, the lack of prebiotic substrates in fruits and vegetables, and pathogens in the gut can negatively affect our lung health and respiratory tree. Studies detail the gut-lung axis whereby dysbiosis in one can affect the other.
The human body mimics nature in its infinite capacity for wonders and complexities. When we support one organ system, we, directly and indirectly, support other organ systems that we may not think are connected. Simple ways to support our natural terrain include consuming a plant-rich diet, ensuring healthy bowel movements, and modulating stress. Prebiotics and probiotics are more niche ways in which we can tailor our gut-lung axis. When adding probiotics, keep in mind that different strains have different effects, and you should consider discussing strain specificity with your provider.
About the Author
Asia Muhammad, ND, is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and an expert in functional medicine and personalized health. She specializes in gastroenterology, mind-body medicine, and stress management and has received additional training in mind-body therapies. Learn more at asiamuhammad.com or follow Dr. Asia on Instagram.