Your intestines are home to trillions and trillions of microbes, the vast majority of them residing in your large intestine. Collectively, these bacteria, yeasts and fungi make up what’s called your microbiota.
Your diet is considered the most powerful tool that can alter the composition and activity of gut microbes. A Western-style diet, high in animal protein, saturated fat and refined carbohydrates and low in fibre has been linked to a loss of microbiota diversity.
Plant-based diets, on the other hand, have been associated with a richer, more diverse microbiota, which is thought to be very important for good health.
Growing evidence suggests this microbial community plays a role in inflammatory bowel disease, mental health, weight control, even food cravings.
Now, a large international study has found that diets plentiful in healthy and plant-based foods promote the presence of specific gut microbes that are associated with a lower risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
About the study findings
The study, conducted by researchers at King's College London, Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the University of Trento in Italy, analyzed the gut microbiomes of 1,100 volunteers from the UK and US.
The researchers also collected long-term dietary information and assessed levels of hundreds of cardiometabolic blood markers including cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammatory compounds. (Cardiometabolic risk factors affect both heart disease and metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes.)
The terms microbiota and microbiome are often used interchangeably, but there’s a subtle difference. The gut microbiome refers to the gut microbes themselves (the microbiota) plus the genes they contain.
The study uncovered strong links between a person's diet, the microbes that lived in their guts, and their health.
Researchers identified microbes that positively or negatively correlate with an individual's risk of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Some of the identified microbes are so novel that they have not yet been named.
Surprisingly, a person’s microbiome was more strongly tied to blood markers for these health conditions than other factors, such as genetics.
Healthy diet associated with “good” gut microbes, lower disease risk
Study participants who ate a healthy diet, or one rich in plant foods, were more likely to have high levels of specific 'good' gut microbes, ones that are associated with a low risk of chronic disease.
The research also revealed that the microbiome was associated with obesity, as well as blood markers for cardiovascular disease and impaired glucose tolerance.
The scientists say these findings can be used to help create personalized eating plans designed specifically to improve one's gut microbiome and health.
When you eat, you're not just nourishing your body, you're also feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut which, in turn, influences your health.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.