Two new studies contribute to the knowledge that the food and medicine a person ingests can alter gut bacteria in either harmful or helpful ways, an article on HealthDay News relates.
Dr. Jingyuan Fu, lead author on one of the studies, says that foods such as yogurt, fruits, vegetables, tea, coffee, wine and buttermilk help increase the diversity of bacteria present in intestines. The diverse bacteria can then work towards preventing illnesses.
Fu, an associate professor of genetics at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands says,
It is believed that higher diversity and richness [in gut bacteria] is beneficial.
On the other hand, researchers found that foods which contain a lot of simple carbohydrates such as sodas and high-fat whole milk seem to reduce this same bacteria diversity.
Medications also play a part in how diverse gut bacteria can be. Antibiotics, antacids and metformin can minimize this diversity, too. Habits such as poor sleep patterns, smoking, using artificial sweeteners and diseases like heart attacks and diabetes also contribute negatively.
Dr. David Johnson, chief of gastroenterology at Eastern Virginia Medical School explains that, “Each person’s intestines contain trillions of microorganisms, which doctors refer to as the ‘gut microbiome.’ The gut microbiome plays an essential but little-understood role in human health.” He adds, “It’s the largest immune system in the body. These bacteria have a very dramatic and prominent role in determining health and disease.” Johnson was not involved in any of the studies.
To validate their study, Fu and her team collected stool samples from over 1,100 people in the northern Netherlands. DNA bacteria from the samples were analyzed, along with other organisms that live in the stomach. Additionally, the scientists gathered data on the participants’ health, diet and medical history.
A second study was conducted by researchers from the Flemish Gut Flora Project. They performed a similar analysis on stool samples from some 5,000 participants in Brazil.
The findings of both studies were around 80% similar. Both concluded that a person’s diet has a significant impact on the diversity of bacteria in the gut, although Fu notes that the “underlying theories of these dietary factors remain largely unknown.”
Both researches stated that their results are but a part of the knowledge gained towards gut bacteria variation. The research team from Belgium says that it may take testing of 40,000 samples before a complete picture on gut bacteria diversity emerges.
Fu is confident that once scientists have a better understanding of the gut microbiome and how it affects health, doctors will be able to use the information to prevent and even heal illnesses by reading and manipulating the diversity of bacteria in the human body. “The personalized microbiome may assist in personalized nutrition, personalized medicine, disease risk stratification and treatment decision-making,” she says.
In the meantime, Johnson advises that, “The general rule is a balanced diet with high fiber and low carbs tends to drive a better gut health overall.”
Both studies were published in the Journal Science.