diverse E. coli

Beer & Chocolate & Microbes That Matter

When it comes to gut health, the diversity of your microbiome is key.

diverse E. coliThrough two studies just published in Science, researchers from Belgium and the Netherlands offer new insight about the intestinal bacteria living inside each and every one of us. The research points the way toward identifying the makeup of a “universal microbiome.”

The importance of this work cannot be understated. Understanding these bacteria in health is critical to studying gut bacteria in illness and abnormal conditions.

The first study, known as the Flemish Gut Flora Project, involved stool samples from 3500 volunteers. It’s one of the largest studies to date on gut flora in healthy people and was designed to uncover links between diet and gut flora and its relationship to health and lifestyle.

The second study also considered data from the Dutch LifeLines-DEEP study. While neither the Flemish Project nor DEEP took birth mode or breastfeeding into account – both indicators of microbiome diversity – the Dutch study did replicate 92% the Flemish Project results.

And while more samples remain to be analyzed, it’s been determined that a set of 14 bacterial strains make up “universal core microbiota” – a microbial community that’s present in everyone, including you.

All told, 69 factors were identified that are linked with gut flora composition. These include health, diet, medication use, gender and age.

You’re probably not surprised to hear the importance of diet to gut diversity. Some especially interesting food/gut relationships were found in those who consumed more beer, red wine, dark chocolate, coffee, buttermilk, and yogurt.

Beer? Wine? Chocolate? Coffee? Hurray!

Other factors appeared to decrease microbial diversity. These included

  • Whole milk consumption.
  • A high-calorie diet.
  • Antacids.
  • Antibiotics.
  • Laxatives.
  • Hay fever drugs.
  • Hormones for birth control or menopause.

Stool transit time – how long it takes for food to move from the mouth through the intestine – was strongly correlated to gut flora composition. Fiber intake was particularly key.

Given our relatively limited knowledge about gut flora composition and its effect on humans, the Flemish Gut Flora Project has provided an enormous contribution to science. Naturally, much more research remains to be done, but it seems clear this emerging knowledge will be of great help in treating disease, as well as creating and sustaining health.