The microbiome refers to network of trillions of bacteria and microorganisms that live in our gut and are shaped by our genetics and our nutritional exposure. We are recognizing the importance of the microbiome and are realizing that this network of bacteria functions almost as a separate organ system, such as the pulmonary or cardiac system does. Current data suggests the microbiome can have a significant impact, for better or for worse, on the state of our health. Researchers believe that the bacteria comprising the microbiome, can be enriched, fortified and diversified, and can improve overall health. Conversely, an attenuated microbiome may affect body systems beyond its home in the intestinal tract, possibly influencing the metabolism, the immune system, and even mental health.
As the evidence mounts regarding the significance of our gut bacteria, new research investigates how diet affects the microbiome and if it possible to alter the composition of this ecosystem. A recent review in the Journal Cell described a study that proved a positive relationship between enriched microbial communities and individuals who followed a mostly plant-based diet—similar to the Mediterranean diet—that is low in animal proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. The microbiome in these subjects also harvested variants of “good” bacteria that can bolster health. Microbiomes in subjects who followed a typical American diet (high in animal protein and deficient in fruits and vegetables) were dissimilar, lacking the abundance and variety as displayed in the plant-based subjects.
The same study then transferred human microbiota shaped by the two diet trends into mice and fed the mice either the plant-style or the American-style diet. Results for mice with microbiomes acclimatized to an American diet indicated a lesser response when introduced to a plant-based diet. Essentially, their gut ecosystems did not flourish greatly.
Some physical conditions affected by our microbiome:
- peptic ulcer disease
- irritable bowel syndrome
- clostridium difficile(cdif) infection
Although it is unknown how long it would take to alter a microbiome significantly, experts seem to agree that the way to cultivate a more beneficial community of intestinal bacteria is by consuming more fiber via fruits, veggies, whole gain, legumes, nuts, and seeds.