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People who eat lots of vegetables, fish, and fiber have more inflammation-fighting bacteria in their guts, but fast-food lovers are feeding the inflammatory microbes.
That is the conclusion of a new study that looked at people’s diet habits and the makeup of their gut “microbiome.“
The term refers to the vast collection of bacteria and other microbes that naturally dwell in the gut.
Studies in recent yrs have been revealing just how important those bacteria are to the body’s normal processes from metabolism and nutrient synthesis to immune defenses and brain function.
In the new study, researchers found that people who ate diets rich in plant-based foods and fish like the famous Mediterranean diet have an advantage: More collections of gut bacteria that can temper inflammation.
On the other hand, people who favored hormone grown meat, processed foods and sugar tend have clusters of gut microbes that are pro-inflammatory.
Many studies have tied Mediterranean-style eating and plant-rich diets to lower risks of many diseases.
The researchers said the new findings add to evidence that effects on the gut microbiome are a Key reason why.
“Our study provides support for the idea that the gut microbiome could be one link between diet and disease risk,” said senior researcher Dr. Rinse Weersma, a gastroenterologist and professor at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.
His team found that people who ate more vegetables, fruit, fatty fish, nuts and fiber-rich grains generally had higher concentrations of bacteria that churn out short-chain fatty acids.
Short-chain fatty acids are produced when gut bacteria ferment non-digestible fiber, and they are anti-inflammatory, Dr. Weersma explained.
On the opposite end of the spectrum was the “fast-food cluster,” where people had a high intake of meat, French fries, soda, and processed snack foods.
Owing to a lack of dietary fiber, they had fewer bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids. They also showed a greater abundance of pro-inflammatory gut microbes.
Many factors influence the balance of bacteria in a person’s gut microbiome, including genes, age, health conditions, Rx medication use, particularly antibiotics, and stress, experts say.
There is no way to get around the biology. You cannot eat a bad diet then take a probiotic. You have to make a fundamental shift in your diet and overall lifestyle.
Unfortunately processed foods and other unhealthy choices are often cheaper, which makes it hard for lower-income people to eat healthfully. But in reality, not cheaper than illness, Rx medicines and medical care.
The new findings published online recently in the journal Gut are based on more than 1,400 Dutch adults who answered Questions on their diet habits and gave stool samples for a gut-microbe analysis. Some were generally healthy, while others had digestive disorders, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Overall, the study found consistent links between fish and food from plants and anti-inflammatory gut microbes, including in people with digestive conditions.
Dr. Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and professor at Harvard Medical School, said evidence is growing that the gut microbiome is an important link between diet and disease risks.
Researchers are just beginning to understand the many roles of the gut microbiome, which some view as an organ unto itself.
Much more work is needed to characterize how the microbiome might influence human health, and define what a “healthy” one is, Dr. Chan added.
For now, these findings support current recommendations to eat more “whole” plant foods and fewer processed ones.
Ultimately, research into the gut microbiome could move experts away from 1-size-fits-all advice. It is now possible to individualize diets based on how a person, and his or her gut microbiome, respond to food.
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