20131The year coming to a close has been especially active for research into the bacteria in our bodies. From the United States to Asia and Europe, numerous research teams have been working on this subject to try and find out more about the relationship between the microbiota and health, behaviour, nutrition and a range of different conditions. And there have been an increasing number of new discoveries about the way our gut bacteria may affect our wellbeing.

This year, for example, research teams have studied the interaction between the microbiota and different diseases and conditions (including cancer and autism), which may help find new ways of fighting these disorders in the future. Research has also shown that our behaviour may also be affected by our gut flora, with both depression and anxiety possibly related to changes in the composition of our microbiota.

The phrase “we are what we eat” is more significant now than ever in light of the new studies that establish a relationship between diet and the microbiota. Nutritionists and gastroenterologists from all over the world agree that the composition and functions of the gut’s bacterial community may be altered by the food we eat. Fibre-rich foods like fruit and vegetables, for example, have been shown to increase bacterial diversity, while eating too much red or processed meat might alter the composition of the microbiota, creating a favourable environment for the development of heart disease.

Diet is not the only thing that influences the composition of the microbiota. It also depends on age, gender and physical activity. Researchers taking part in the American Gut Project recently showed data from the microbiota of thousands of individuals, confirming that the level of exercise and the intensity at which it is carried out may also lead to a difference in the gut microbiota composition.

The different drugs we take also affect us. A Spanish study published in Gut showed how antibiotic therapy leads to reduced diversity in the gut microbiota, reaching minimum levels 11 days after beginning treatment. In recent months, microbiota transplantation has also hit the headlines, especially after scientists in the US showed its effectiveness in treating patients suffering from recurrent Clostridium difficile infection.

 In light of the research, it could be said that we are witnessing a transition from the “genome era” to what could be called the “microbiome era”. And all fingers point to even greater interest in the field in the coming twelve months. In fact, the overlying theme for the World Gastroenterology Organisation’s World Digestive Health Day 2014 is “The Gut Microbes – Importance in Health and Nutrition”.

As for our blog, we will continue to provide you with plenty of information about these new developments and any other news that will help us all understand better how the community of bacteria living in our intestines works.

Happy 2014!