Maintain a healthful balance
It’s gut-check time when considering how microbiota affects healthy digestion
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.