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Studies from the past few years have shown gut microbiota is implicated in numerous health conditions, such as obesity, allergies and asthma, as well as colon cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s. Animal studies have shown the key role gut microbiota plays in training and maintaining proper function of the immune system, and also in maintaining good metabolic function. These studies have indicated a balanced, rich, and varied collection of gut microorganisms is essential to our health. In this relationship between gut microbiota and health, diet may be important as it can dramatically change the microbial composition in the gut.

Now a team of Italian researchers, led by Mariangela Caroprese, from the Department of the Sciences of Agriculture, Food and Environment, from the University of Foggia (Italy), have published a review on the impact of dairy products on the gut microbiota in the International Journal of Nutritional Sciences.

According to the authors, intestinal microbiota could be used as a biomarker for indicating intake of healthy or unhealthy food. They identify some fatty acids found in milk, including byproducts, that could function as bioactive compounds and exert a beneficial action on specific intestinal bacteria linked to anti-inflammatory effects.

“Some kind[s] of food compounds also exerts [sic] significant effects on the intestinal environment, changing the gut microbiota composition and probably its functional effects on [the] human organism”, the researchers state in the article, highlighting the necessity for further studies about the interaction between bioactive food compounds and specific intestinal bacteria.

Along these lines, the authors note normal and healthy microbiota members, such as lactic acid bacteria, produce large quantities of biologically active short-chain fatty acids. And these acids can have an anti-inflammatory function; for instance, butyric acid carries out inmunomodulatory activities. Also, some fatty acids in dairy products, the polyunsaturated fatty acids or PUFA, have effects on specific intestinal bacteria, like Lactobacillus strains, which in turn can exert beneficial effects on human health. And although it still has to be demonstrated, the researchers speculate about beneficial actions of these PUFAs in the case of inflammatory bowel disease.

In fact, different studies have already shown diets rich in PUFAs positively influence immune function, and also blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and cardiovascular function, both in humans and animals. The researchers point out, though, that when raw milk is used to make cheese, the fatty acids present in the cheese are influenced by the initial fatty acid content of the milk.

“It could be interesting to investigate how milk and dairy products can influence the gut microbiota and subsequently outputs”, the authors conclude.

 
References:

Mancino R, Albenzio M and Caroprese M. Dairy Products: Influence on Gut Microbiota. Int J Nutr Sci. 2016; 1(1): 1005.

Cristina Sáez
Cristina Sáez
Cristina Saez is a freelance science journalist. She works for several media, for instance the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, where she coordinates the science section, Big Vang; as well as research centres and scientific societies. She has been awarded for her journalistic work, among others, with the Boehringer Ingelheim Award in Medical Journalism 2015. Follow Cristina on Twitter @saez_cristina