A diverse intestinal microbiota is like a lush forest
Gut microbiota diversity corresponds to the number of different species present in an individual. There is every reason to believe that the diversity of gut microbiota is an indicator of the microbiota’s good health. Indeed, when observing gut microbiota among people with non-communicable diseases (cardiovascular diseases, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes) and the elderly, researchers realised that these individuals’ microbiota were poorly diversified.
Paul Cotter (Teagasc Food Research Centre and APC Microbiome, Ireland) compares a diverse gut microbiota to a tropical ecosystem in which a variety of trees, plants, birds and other animals peacefully coexist. “A rain forest is like a highly diverse microbiota in that there are lots of different species that can do lots of different things. Even if one of these rain forest species dies, the overall environment will continue to thrive”.
In contrast, a forest with only few summer plants and trees will be weaker and less able to survive when winter arrives. Compared to the rain forest, the summer forest is less diverse and rich and, as a result, less resilient.
There is every reason to believe that the diversity of gut microbiota is an indicator of the microbiota’s good health.
A diverse gut microbiota consists of different types of microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.) that produce thousands of powerful compounds and coexist harmoniously in the habitat of the host gut.
Recently, scientists have shift from the number of microorganisms to the number of gut microbiota genes as an accurate way to predict how healthy your gut microbiota is. This means that the richer your gut microbiota gene count is (i.e. high species diversity capable of doing a wealth of functions that humans cannot exert themselves), the more resilient your gut microbiota will be.
According to Paul Cotter, a high degree of microbial diversity is not only desirable in humans but also in other species (cattle, pigs, horses, fish, insects, etc.), in the environment (soils, waste treatment plants, etc.) and even in fermented foods. This is why the slogan chosen for #WorldMicrobiomeDay 2020 is #DiversityMatters. This is the main topic that integrates both microbiota and the means and advice through which their diversity can be maintained.
Maintaining a varied diet to preserve a diverse gut microbiota throughout life
Dietary and lifestyle patterns are the most impactful factors influencing the variety of bacteria in your gut, which in turn can affect your health. The impact on your health will depend on whether this diversity is low or high.
Adapting our lifestyle and maintaining a varied diet allows us to preserve the diversity of our microbiota. A balanced diet is rich in fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins and nutrients, fibres, antioxidants, and so on. Such a diet also provides products of plant and animal origin in balanced quantities. We must also not forget our allies in the form of fermented products, some of which contain probiotics and prebiotics, the fibres that feed the bacteria of our microbiota, which in turn produce short-chain fatty acids. These prebiotics are present in e.g. onions, garlic, bananas, legumes and cold, cooked potatoes. Data from the American Gut Project has revealed that consuming more than 30 different plant-based foods on a weekly basis is associated with a widely diverse gut microbiota.
Dietary and lifestyle patterns are the most impactful factors influencing the variety of bacteria in your gut
Finally, we must not forget to exercise regularly, in whatever form we choose, to get enough sleep, to manage our stress levels and to stay hydrated.
Think of your healthy gut microbiota as a diverse rain forest in which plants, animals and humans and their activities live together in a peaceful day. #WorldMicrobiomeDay2020 recalls that a diverse gut microbiota is an important indicator of a healthy gut and of one’s well-being. The best way to maintain its diversity is to eat a varied diet, with both animal and plant-based foods, fermented foods containing probiotics, dietary fibers, some of which have prebiotic properties, to exercise, to manage stress and, finally, not to forget to stay hydrated.
- Toward clinical utility of metagenomic data: interview with Dr. Joël Doré. 2020 [cited 10 June 2020]. In: Microbiome Times. Available from: http://www.microbiometimes.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Microbiome-Times-Aug-2019-Online-5.pdf
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- McDonald D, Hyde E, Debelius JW, et al. American Gut: an open platform for citizen science microbiome research. mSystems. 2018; 3(3):e00031-18. doi: 10.1128/mSystems.00031-18.