Your lifestyle has strong impact on gut bacteria: study

London: Everything you eat or drink affects your intestinal bacteria, and is likely to have an impact on your health, a new study has found.

Researchers from University Medical Centre Groningen (UMCG) in Netherlands collected stool samples from more than 1100 people. The samples were used to analyse the DNA of the bacteria and other organisms that live in the gut. In addition to stools, the study collected information on the participants’ diet, medicine-use and health, researchers said.

The study is unique in that it focused on a group of normal people whereas previous research was frequently focused on patients with a specific illness, they said. Further, the study covered an exceptionally large group of people and studied their gut DNA in detail. “Normally researchers only investigate one particular region of DNA in which different groups of bacteria can be distinguished,” said Cisca Wijmenga from UMCG.

“We have mapped all the bacterial DNA to gain much more detailed information about bacteria types,” said Wijmenga. This DNA analysis made it possible to examine which factors impact the diversity of the microbiome (the intestinal
bacterial community unique to each of us). And that appears to be many, Wijmenga said.

“You see, for example, the effect of diet in the gut,” she said. People who regularly consume yogurt or buttermilk have a greater diversity of gut bacteria. Coffee and wine can increase the diversity as well, while whole milk or a
high-calorie diet can decrease it, researchers said.

“In total we found 60 dietary factors that influence the diversity. But there is a good correlation between diversity and health – greater diversity is better,” said Alexandra Zhernakova from UMCG. Beyond diet, at least 19 different kinds of medicine – some of which are widely used – have an impact on microbiome
diversity, researchers said.

An earlier study showed that antacids decrease this diversity, while antibiotics and the diabetes drug metformin also have an effect, they said. “Disease often occurs as the result of many factors. Most of these factors, like your genes or your age, are not things you can change,” said Wijmenga.

“But you can change the diversity of your microbiome through adapting your diet or medication. When we understand how this works, it will open up new possibilities,” she said. The findings were published in the journal Science.