Researchers put forward the need for creating a microbial “volt” to preserve beneficial microbial species, which are slowly disappearing from our guts.

By Maria Arvaniti 

Your gut microbiome might be in danger. Scientists have sounded the alarm, calling an urgent need to preserve our gut microbiota. Industrialization, western diets and processed food have had a huge impact on decreasing the biodiversity of our gut flora1 – the amount of different microbial species in our guts.

Is it high time we made a microbial Noah’s Ark?

Obesity, diabetes, asthma and allergies are only a handful of diseases we now see in numbers we would never have imagined 50 years ago. A group of scientists, led by Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello, professor at Rutgers University, think this loss of diversity in our gut microbiome could be the connective link.

They believe the underlying factor could be the changes in our microbiota due to industrialization. 

They believe the underlying factor could be the changes in our microbiota due to industrialization. “The changes involve the loss of our ancestral microbial heritage to which we were exposed through millions of years of evolution,” writes the team in their recent article, published in Science2

Your microbial roots are grounded in nature

Introducing certain beneficial microbial species back to our guts may help us deal with many diseases3. Yet – when our busy schedule, poor nutritional choices and stressful lifestyles make these valuable gut microbes hard to find, where should we search for remaining sources?

The answer, according to the researchers, could be addressed by looking to remote populations. They suggest that these beneficial – and almost lost –microbes can be collected from people living in isolated lands, far from our cities. They naturally have more diverse microbial communities: for instance, the gut microbiomes of South American Ameridians were found to be two times more diverse than the average healthy person living in the United States 4,5.

The gut microbiomes of South American Ameridians were found to be two times more diverse than the average healthy person living in the United States

Thus, the scientists are putting their hopes in people from geographically and culturally diverse backgrounds, those with least exposure to urbanization. These individuals could still preserve the ancestral microbes that have almost vanished inside all of us who continue living in industrialized, metropolitan areas. Still, since its unlikely we can all seclude ourselves enough to give our microbes a boost in this manner, there are other luckily options. 

Here’s what you can do

Without doubt, microbial banks will help preserve the health of our subsequent generations. Yet, there is still more to be done, to ensure our sustainable future. To help you on your way, the scientists have a few simple suggestions you can use to boost your microbial diversity:

  • Reduce use of antibiotics
  • Limit cesarean sections – only when necessary and not just for convenience
  • Support breastfeeding of all newborns
  • Removing antibacterial compounds in daily life by choosing natural products
  • Optimize your diet, focusing on nutrients and foods that enhance microbial diversity 

Collectively, the key for us is to balance our nutrition, focusing on foods grown in nutrient-rich soil, abundant in fiber and avoiding lifestyle products that disrupt our microbial populations. Whilst we cannot change how we were reared as children, we can choose to make conscious choices TODAY, creating the lives we truly envision. The more versatile and healthy our personal microbiomes are, the more we can support global sustainability. 


References:

  1. Sonnenburg, E. D. et al. Diet-induced extinctions in the gut microbiota compound over generations. Nature 529, 212–215 (2016).
  2. Bello, M. G. D., Knight, R., Gilbert, J. A. & Blaser, M. J. Preserving microbial diversity. Science. 362, 33 LP-34 (2018).
  3. Khoruts, A., Dicksved, J., Jansson, J. K. & Sadowsky, M. J. Changes in the Composition of the Human Fecal Microbiome After Bacteriotherapy for Recurrent Clostridium Difficile-associated Diarrhea. J. Clin. Gastroenterol. 44, 1 (2009).
  4. Yatsunenko, T. et al. Human gut microbiome viewed across age and geography. Nature 486, 222–227 (2012).
  5. Clemente, J. C. et al. The microbiome of uncontacted Amerindians. Sci. Adv. 1, e1500183–e1500183 (2015).