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10 Feb 2014
Your gut is an ecosystem in its own right, it's home to 100 trillion microorganisms and contains more than 1,000 different species, this huge collection of microbes has become known as the gut microbiota. Research is just starting to understand the importance of this bacterial community and its impact on our overall health and wellbeing.
The diversity and health of your gut microbiota depends significantly on the lifestyle that you lead, the food that you eat and also your genetics. A number of recent studies have revealed the importance of diet in its impact on the gut microbiota, including a new study from the University College Cork. Dr Paul Ross and his colleagues from the Alimentary Pharmabiotic Centre (APC), Food Research Centre and University College Cork, believe that the study of the human microbiota has the potential to transform how we think about nutrition, gut health and disease prevention. "Research is starting to show that the food we eat has a huge bearing on the composition of the collective and also that the profile of the collection of bacteria can be associated with a person's health status." Dr Ross commented.
Advances in technology, including DNA sequencing, have allowed for the study of complex microbial communities such as the human gut microbiota. This has led to a greater understanding of the composition and diversity of the human gut microbiota and how specific stages in our life, such as birth and ageing, affects our gut, as well as the microbial changes that occur during inflammatory bowel conditions and gastrointestinal infections. The huge diversity of gut microbiota between individuals has perhaps surprised the scientific community the most, as huge variation reflects differences in lifestyle, diet, genetics and even geographical location.
In the University College Cork's latest study, a project called ELDERMET, a team profiled the faecal microbiota of elderly people from the local community, day-hospitals, rehabilitation centres and long-term residential care homes. They found that the composition of gut microbiota correlated with each location. Dr Ross explains their findings, "The results demonstrated that the individual microbiota of people in long-stay care was significantly less diverse than those that resided in the community. In addition, these subjects were also clustered by diet by the same residence location and microbiota groupings. Interestingly, the separation of microbiota composition correlated significantly with health parameters in these individuals including measures of frailty, co-morbidity, nutritional status, markers of inflammation and with metabolites in faecal water."
These findings suggest that the diet can directly, and significantly, impact the composition and health of our gut microbiota, so even more reason to eat well!
Read more about the impact of diet on the gut microbiota.