The age-old adage “you are what you eat” still rings true today and researchers are finding that “you aren’t what you don’t eat” may be another one to consider. For thousands of years, the human diet remained relatively unchanged. Fast-forward to today — we have an endless assortment of foods to choose from and, let’s be honest, most of them aren’t too healthy. Going from fresh fruits and raw vegetables to frozen fish sticks and canned ravioli, the human diet has evolved quite a bit — in the wrong direction.
If the latter description reminded you of your diet, you may be wondering how it is affecting the inside of your body. When people hear the term bacteria, they often imagine evil little bugs that will make them sick. What most don’t realize is that the human body contains about three pounds of bacteria. Scientists and researchers are continuing to learn just how essential some of these bacteria are to our body’s immune system, metabolism and central nervous system.
Health issues such as asthma, allergies, type 2 diabetes and Crohn’s disease are some examples of conditions with an increasingly early age of onset. Scientists suspect that this may be the result of the decline in our gut’s microbiota. A study published in Science Advances examined the gut microbiota in modern-day hunter-gatherers; the researchers found that these societies had up to 50 percent more bacterial species than western societies. The study also noted that these societies have relatively lower rates for diseases common in the U.S., such as type 2 diabetes, obesity and Crohn’s disease. This conclusion leads researchers to believe there may be a correlation between gut bacteria and the rate of occurrence for certain diseases. Learn more about this research.
Scientists have questioned why the age of onset was steadily decreasing. In order to test the theory that gut bacteria levels were decreasing in younger generations, researchers put mice on a low fiber diet in order to decrease the levels of microbiota in their gut. They then studied future generations of the rodents and saw that, with each generation, the levels of gut microbiota were lower. Next, scientists put the younger generation back on a high fiber diet and found that the damage to their microbiota was irreversible. Thus, researchers were able to conclude that poor eating habits within a culture can lead to reducing the microbiota levels in future generations, which may lead to earlier onset of diseases and a weakened immune system.
You may be wondering about things you can do right now to raise your gut microbiota to healthy levels. The answer is simple — eat a healthy diet that has plenty of fiber. Your diet should include plenty of vegetables, nuts and whole grains. Small changes such as this will lead to a healthier and happier you.
Erica D. Sonnenburg, Samuel A. Smits, Mikhail Tikhonov, Steven K. Higginbottom, Ned S. Wingreen, Justin L. Sonnenburg. Diet-induced extinctions in the gut microbiota compound over generations. Nature, 2016; 529 (7585): 212 DOI: 10.1038/nature16504