The bacteria we have inside our body aren't all bad. For instance, good bacteria or probiotics in our stomach help the body digest food and fight against invading microbes.
Probiotics can be found in dairy products such as yogurt and in other dietary supplements. A previous study conducted by Lund University has even discovered that a glass of water contains about 10 million good bacteria. These probiotics are significantly vital to our mental and physical health.
Now, new research suggests that a low-fiber diet may be posing a threat to these essential microbes. This could someday result in internal deficiencies that are passed down over generations, experts said.
A Low-Fiber Diet Depletes Gut Microbes
Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine found that Western diets – food rich in fat, sugar and cholesterol but low in fiber – may be gradually depleting probiotics over time.
Unfortunately, about 90 percent of people in the United States admit to eating too much salty food from the Western diet.
The obesity epidemic in the U.S. can be blamed to poor diet, low physical activity and increasing sedentary behavior, experts said. The Stanford study builds upon this notion.
Gut Bacteria In Mice
In a study featured in the journal Nature, the team examined mice that had been raised without access to normal nutrient-rich food. The gut bacteria in these mice were found to have depleted entirely.
Led by Associate Professor Justin Sonnenburg, the team inserted human gut bacteria into lab mice to recreate the lost microbiomes. They divided the mice into two groups: the first would eat a diet rich in fiber, while the second would eat a no-fiber diet.
The number of gut bacteria remained the same at first, but after a few weeks, scientists noticed the change. The number of probiotics in the no-fiber diet mice had plummeted by 75 percent.
"Within a couple of weeks, we saw a massive change," said Sonnenburg, adding that the low-fiber diet mice had fewer gut bacteria species.
When the no-fiber diet mice were switched to a nutrient-rich, high-fiber diet, they managed to recover slightly, researchers said, but their levels of gut bacteria could never reach the same as before.
Aside from that, mice babies from mice that had depleted gut bacteria were born with imbalanced probiotics. This indicated that a restriction of gut bacteria could result in a permanently changed gut microbiome that can be passed down from generation to generation.
How Low Amounts Of Good Bacteria Can Affect Overall Health
People who live in industrialized and modern societies often eat low-fiber diets than other rural societies. The results are less diverse gut bacteria among the former.
"Numerous factors including widespread antibiotic use, more-frequent cesarean sections and less-frequent breastfeeding have been proposed for why we see this depletion in industrialized populations," said scientist Erica Sonnenburg, a co-author of the study.
Without probiotics, our immune system would be compromised. It can lead to a slew of health problems, all of which can potentially be passed down to later generations.
1. Digestive Problems
The first part that would be affected by the loss of gut bacteria is the stomach. People with an unhealthy gut will experience bloating, gas, diarrhea, acid reflux or heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.
2. Mental Health Issues
Justin Sonnenburg said people whose gut bacteria are depleted will have an increased risk for depression and anxiety. It is because probiotics help produce neurotransmitters in our brain, experts said. Aside from anxiety, people with imbalanced gut bacteria could also be at risk for OCD, autism or brain fog.
3. Vitamin And Mineral Deficiencies
Probiotics play a role in helping the body synthesize minerals and vitamins. As such, imbalanced gut bacteria can lead to deficiencies in vitamin D, vitamin B12, vitamin B7, vitamin K and magnesium.
4. Chronic, Unmanaged Stress
Unmanaged stress can increase levels of cortisol in the body. This in turn can stop the gut from working properly. Experts said that people who have been stressed for the past few months and haven't been managing their stress well may be doing so because of an unhealthy gut.
Photo : Max Charping | Flickr