7 June: What's within - the importance of bacteria

As some readers may have guessed I am fascinated by the microbiome  - the complex community of bacteria residing in our guts. It really is an area of research that has exploded in recent years and I think we are about to see some really interesting findings and applications relating to a diverse range of health issues emerge. Recently I have read studies linking our diversity and numbers of bacteria to everything from weight and obesity through to risk of depression, anxiety, immunity, gut issues and even dictating what foods we subconsciously choose to eat. They even influence how many calories we glean from that food eaten (hence part of the link with weight and obesity).

While to a certain extent our bacteria are determined by genetics and circumstances surrounding our birth – yep if you are a mother what you eat affects your child (either living or yet to be conceived) and in turn your own gut bacteria are determined by what your own mother and her mother and her mother ate. However nutrition is also certainly a key influencer in the number and species of bacteria that flourish in our guts and we are seeing that even short term changes can have some significant effects. This should give heart to many – rather than leave our entire future and health to that of genetics it is always nice to know that what we do in our own lives can exert influence on the direction of our health. That gives weight to our daily decisions and empowers us as individuals to take control of our health through good nutrition and other lifestyle choices.

For those that are interested in this subject here is a link (below) to a recent free access review exploring dietary fibre and gut microbiota. Figure 5 in the article provides a nice visual summary for those short on time to read through the whole piece. And for those really short on time the basic summary is: eat more plant foods – vegetables, fruits and properly prepared legumes are all loved by your gut bacteria. And avoid the modern traps of highly refined, high sugar and fat diets. Surprise surprise.

Simpson, H. L., and B. J. Campbell. "Review article: dietary fibre–microbiota interactions." Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics (2015).