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Western lifestyle could be culprit for our disappearing healthy gut bacteria

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Is Western lifestyle to blame for our disappearing healthy gut bacteria?

Researchers are trying to understand more about bacteria in the gut and how diversity of microbes promote or adversely affect our health. A new study suggests Western lifestyle might be the culprit for disappearing bacteria in our intestines that can have implications for health.


Senior author Jens Walter of the University of Alberta Department of Agricultural, Food & Nutritional Science points out several factors that are thought to alter intestinal bacteria including diet, water sanitation and antibiotic use. But the exact cause is still unknown.

The new study, published in the journal Cell Press, compared gut bacteria of adults from the U.S. and two non-industrialized areas of Papua New Guinea. Natives who were studied follow a traditional agricultural based lifestyle in an area that is the least urbanized in the world.

Studies show modern lifestyle depletes gut bacteria

For this study Walter and colleagues found New Guineans have a greater diversity of gut bacteria. New Guineans have 50 more types of bacteria compared to U.S. residents;

The researchers say ecological processes that affect Western civilization appear to account for the differences in intestinal bacteria between New Guineans and U.S. residents found in the study.

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"These findings suggest that lifestyle practices that reduce bacterial dispersal--specifically sanitation and drinking water treatment--might be an important cause of microbiome alterations," Walter says. "We propose a model based on ecological theory that fits the data and provides an explanation for the decline of microbiota diversity in urban-industrialized societies."

Study co-author Andrew Greenhill, a senior lecturer in microbiology at Federation University Australia said the information could be used to develop interventions that would restore healthy gut flora among populations living in industrialized countries without jeopardizing modern lifestyle practices that are considered beneficial.

More research is needed to understand how lifestyle affects bacteria in the gut that can lead to chronic diseases. "Such research might provide important information on the causes of western lifestyle diseases and a basis for the development of therapies for their treatment and/or prevention," Walter says.


"The Gut Microbiota of Rural Papua New Guineans: Composition, Diversity Patterns, and Ecological Processes"
Inés Martínez, et al.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2015.03.049

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