Main­tain a health­ful bal­ance

It’s gut-check time when con­sid­er­ing how mi­cro­biota af­fects healthy di­ges­tion

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - LIVING - By LeeAnn Wein­traub Spe­cial to Dig­i­tal First Me­dia

Evolv­ing sci­ence is pretty clear that the micro­organ­isms in­hab­it­ing our diges­tive tracts, also known as the gut mi­cro­biota, are largely re­spon­si­ble for our over­all health and well-be­ing.

The gut mi­cro­biota is the com­plex mix of the thou­sands of species of healthy bac­te­ria that live within the gas­troin­testi­nal tract of their host. Main­tain­ing a bal­ance of thriv­ing bac­te­ria in the gut is im­por­tant for proper di­ges­tion, im­mune func­tion­ing and nu­tri­ent me­tab­o­lism among other func­tions.

Var­i­ous health con­di­tions have been associated with gut mi­cro­biota changes, in­clud­ing in­flam­ma­tory bowel disease, neu­rode­vel­op­men­tal dis­eases, meta­bolic dis­eases like obe­sity and di­a­betes and al­ler­gies. Sci­en­tists con­tinue to study the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the gut mi­cro­biota and hu­man health.

A re­cent study pub­lished in Sci­ence mag­a­zine found that peo­ple liv­ing in the present day in tra­di­tional hunter­gath­erer or for­ag­ing life­styles have much more var­ied and di­verse gut mi­cro­biota com­pared to the ma­jor­ity of us liv­ing in in­dus­tri­al­ized so­ci­eties. Pop­u­la­tions liv­ing on a hunter-gath­erer diet eat meat, plants, and even honey with lit­tle to no ex­po­sure to pack­aged and pro­cessed foods.

It is hy­poth­e­sized that our diges­tive flora be­gan to change nearly 15,000 years ago when farm­ing be­gan. The in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion of food, which started about 100 years ago, fur­ther changed and di­min­ished our gut mi­crobes.

While hunter-gath­er­ers con­sume nearly 100 grams of fiber daily, typ­i­cal Amer­i­cans strug­gle to con­sume the rec­om­mended 25-30 grams of fiber ev­ery day. Mi­crobes thrive off this di­etary fiber in the diges­tive tract. Plus, there’s no doubt that through pro­cessed foods, mod­ern farm­ing tech­niques, an­tibi­otics, and other tech­nolo­gies we are ex­posed to fewer micro­organ­isms than our prim­i­tive an­ces­tors.

The ques­tion is, how has this nu­tri­tional evo­lu­tion changed our health by chang­ing the makeup of the bac­te­ria in our guts?

While those fol­low­ing a Pa­leo Diet that lim­its pro­cessed foods and bases their meal plan on meats, veg­eta­bles, fruits, seeds, and other foods more com­mon among hunter-gath­erer di­ets might be on to some­thing, it’s chal­leng­ing to ad­here to a prim­i­tive diet in mod­ern times.

Hunter-gath­er­ers’ eat­ing pat­terns change with the sea­sons, which al­ters their gut mi­crobes. Plus, our food, in­clud­ing fruits and veg­eta­bles grown on farms and or­chards, has evolved over the cen­turies. While our micro­organ­isms are lack­ing in va­ri­ety, our food sup­ply is much more di­verse and plen­ti­ful.

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