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Gut bacteria linked to food choices

6th September 2011

People's gut flora seem to polarise their eating habits, according to a recent US study.


The researchers found that one common type of gut flora led some people to hunger after a high-fat diet, while another common type led people to prefer a high-fibre diet.

Lead researcher James Lewis, of the University of Pennsylvania, said that numerous micro-organisms colonised the human body.

He said that the number of bacterial cells in the average human colon was more than the number of human cells in the average human body.

Last year, researchers in Germany used DNA analysis to study people's gut flora and noticed that, considered in terms of that DNA, most humans they studied seemed to fit one of three profiles.

People either had high levels of Bacteroides, Prevotella, or Ruminococcus, with Ruminococcus being the most frequent among the study subjects.

The researchers who worked on the current study were interested in seeing how these differences in gut bacteria might influence public health as a whole.

Lewis said that intestines were unique, because they were constantly affected by what people ate, and that it seemed logical that food could determine the composition of gut bacteria.

For the study, the researchers recruited about 100 volunteers.

Each volunteer donated a stool sample, as well as answering plenty of questions about their eating habits.

Using machines that isolated, replicated, and sequenced the DNA of people's gut flora, the researchers concluded that their pool of study subjects seemed to fit two profiles.

Attempting to augment their study with as much detail as possible, the researchers included a statistical analysis of all of the fats, amino acids, and plant-derived compounds that the study subjects had reported eating in the exhaustive questionnaire.

The researchers did not encounter Ruminococcus, as the other study had done, but instead only encountered Bacteroides and Prevotella.

Based on people's eating patterns, Bacteroides seemed to prefer a diet rich in meats and fats.

People whose guts had more Prevotella, which is also common in the guts of grazing animals like sheep and cattle, seemed to prefer a high-carbohydrate diet.

Neither bacterium is very helpful to the body if it begins to live outside the intestines.

In some cases, Bacteroides can cause abscesses, and Prevotella can cause tooth decay that is difficult to treat.

After the researchers had established that their study subjects could be grouped into two types, they decided to try changing people's diets.

The researchers found that it only took about 24 hours for people's gut flora to begin to change.

However, the overall composition of people's guts, and therefore their eating preferences, remained the same.

For their next study, the researchers hope to find a connection between Crohn's disease and gut bacteria.

Lewis said that Crohn's disease was caused in part by the way the body responded to its own gut flora, and that diet changes in children with Crohn's disease seemed to do some good.


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Odile Brock

Monday 12th September 2011 @ 1:15

This confirms the value of diets like the Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) and the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet for Crohn's patients. They are based on changing the food intake in order to achieve changes in the bacteria present in the gut. Not enough research has been done on this. Physicians dismiss the possibility that such diets can help, treating cures as "anecdotal evidence". It's true that the diets take some effort, but what is that compared to chronic and persistent illness and pain, or surgery which does not always offer relief? The worst the diet can do is not work. Try them!

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