Diet and the Gut

The human gut is home to thousands of different bacterial species, totaling 100 trillion bacterial cells—that’s about four pounds of bacteria, or the weight of a brick. The composition of this bacterial population (also known as the gut microbiota), is currently being studied.

A new study by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, published in Science, takes the findings further. This new study found two major gut types—Bacteroides and Prevotella—based on gut bacterial population groups in 98 healthy volunteers who were asked to fill out questionnaires that assessed dietary habits. Stool samples were collected to determine their gut microbiota composition.

The researchers found a link between dietary habits and gut types. People who ate a diet high in meat and saturated fat were higher in Bacteroides bacteria, and people who had a diet high in carbohydrates had more Prevotella bacteria. Researchers then took ten volunteers and fed half of them a diet high in fat and low in fiber, and fed the other half a low-fat, high-fiber diet. By the end of ten days, the bacterial populations had begun to change but were still predominantly the same Bacteroides and Prevotella groups. This indicates that it’s possible to change the gut microbiota with diet, but it will take more than a short-term change to see any major difference.

Next steps will be to replicate these findings to confirm them and to take the studies further by looking at whether these gut types are associated with health. It’s an exciting area of research, working out the details of what health advocates like ReNew Life founder Brenda Watson has said all along—your gut is the foundation of the health of the rest of your body. It all begins in the gut!

E. coli and Our “Gut Ecology”

Recent news of the unprecedented and massive outbreak of E. coli in Europe has public health officials scrambling to find the source of contamination. This toxic, antibiotic-resistant version of E. coli bacterium is like no other American scientists have seen. Since its discovery, this super bug has killed at least 22 and sickened over 2,330 people in 12 European countries.

Escherichia coli, or E. coli is a natural inhabitant of the human gut, but it is no stranger to food contamination and has caused many outbreaks across the globe. Although some strains are harmless, when an infection is present E. coli causes digestive symptoms similar to typical food poisoning such as diarrhea, cramps, gas and bloating. However the new German, toxic E. coli strain or enterohaemorrhagic E.coli (EHEC), causes much more serious issues such as bloody diarrhea and even seizures, strokes and comas caused by the bacteria attacking the kidneys.

While investigators struggle to identify the initial source of E. coli contamination, everything from unclean cucumbers, tomatoes and sprouts have been blamed. Still the real cause of this extraordinary outbreak is a mystery and has left many people afraid to eat fresh produce. A healthy amount of caution is wise, but avoiding vegetables hardly seems like a good strategy.

The fact is all of us have an eco-system of bacteria, good, bad and neutral, teaming within our digestive systems. This delicate balance of trillions of bacteria has the power to either keep us healthy or make us sick. Maintaining proper balance of good bacteria helps crowd out potentially bad bacteria and also supports good digestion. With over 1,000 strains of beneficial bacteria can be found in the human gut, it makes sense to choose a probiotic supplement that reflects this natural diversity. A probiotic supplement with the right amount of cultures and strains can help promote digestive health, bowel regularity and strengthen the body’s natural immune defenses.

Although infection with this super-strain of E. coli bacteria has been very limited in the US, the CDC recommends proper hand washing and food preparation techniques to keep food-borne infections at a minimum. Common sense would also suggest that maintaining your own personal “gut ecology” might also be a good idea. Research shows that probiotic supplements might be a smart way to tip the balance of bacteria in the digestive system in favor of good bacteria.