Bugs in Your Gut? They're Good For You

Intestinal bacteria can affect obesity diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) The saying goes "You are what you eat." More specifically, new research shows that the condition of your intestinal microbes – which are affected by the foods you eat – could have an impact on your health.

The bacteria living in your gut exert a profound effect on the nutrients and energy that your body extracts from food. A complex microbial ecosystem lives inside the intestinal tract, which – in addition to controlling nutrition – also plays a role in your overall health and may have a direct effect on specific conditions such as obesity, diabetes, or irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s Disease.

"Bacteria in your gut can affect your health; watch what you eat."

A clinical study by microbiologist Frederic D. Bushman, Ph.D., and several co-authors at the University of Pennsylvania shows that the types of bugs found in your gut are controlled by your eating habits. Specifically, they found a major difference in the intestinal bacteria in people who primarily ate an animal protein and fat (meat-based) diet from those who mainly consumed a high-fiber (vegetable-based) diet.

The results showed that over the long haul, meat-eaters had a majority of one type of bacteria (bacteroides) while the fiber diet produced a different strain (prevotella) of bugs. Researchers compared lists of what 98 people ate to the bacterial DNA found in their stool samples. They found that the microbial communities tend to remain relatively stable.

To see if they could develop new intestinal microbes, researchers changed the diets of 10 people for 10 days and took stool samples to monitor changes in the type of bacteria. They did detect some small changes in the bacterial mixture after only a day or two, but the subjects’ microbial ecosystems remained essentially the same even after 10 days on an altered diet.

The report concludes that it is your long-term eating habits, rather than a short-term change or perhaps a dietary lapse, which have the most impact on intestinal bacteria and overall health.

But while the results indicate that there's a difference between general types of gut bacteria, but they don't tell us whether either of them is good or bad. The study calls for more research into how the composition of intestinal bacteria affects conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's) or diabetes.

The study was published in the Sept. 1 edition of the journal Science Express.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
September 7, 2011
Last Updated:
September 25, 2011