What you put into your body, including medications and food, determines the diversity of your gut microbiome, says two similar studies.

Not all types of bacteria are created equal. Take, for example, the millions of microorganisms called microbiome living in the gut. While they have different functions, they all work together to give your body the best kind of defense.

"It's the largest immune system in the body. These bacteria have a very dramatic and prominent role in determining health and disease," said Dr. David Johnson, Eastern Virginia Medical School's chief gastroenterologist.

However, there's a challenge: in order for a person to benefit significantly from gut bacteria, they have to be incredibly diverse, and diversity may be highly influenced by food and medications.

The two studies looked into how a person's lifestyle affects the diversity of the microbiome. The researchers collected stool samples from more than 1,100 people in Northern Netherlands, in the first study, and from 5,000 people from Belgium, in the second study.

In conjunction with the stool analysis, the team also studied the DNA of the stool's bacteria as well as conducted a lifestyle assessment on participants wherein they were asked about their health, use of medication and food consumed.

Although the researchers were only able analyze less than 20 percent of bacterial variation of the participants in each of the two studies, the data shared was 80 percent, which suggests the results can be correlated.

Based on the results, healthy food such as fruits and vegetables, complemented with buttermilk and yogurt, can increase gut diversity, thereby potentially enhancing the body's immune system.

The diversity, however, may be hampered by poor diet, which may be characterized by too much drinking of sweetened soda and eating simple carbohydrates.

When it comes to medications, antacids and metformin, a popular treatment for people with type 2 diabetes, can have a negative effect on the bacterial gut. Antibiotics may be the worst, which can be illustrated by C. difficile cases.

"One dose of an antibiotic may disrupt your gut bacteria for a year," said Johnson.

As to how these factors positively or negatively affect gut flora diversity, the researchers don't exactly know. Besides, it takes thousands more samples to get a more comprehensive idea of the gut flora.

The researchers are confident, though, that with more knowledge about gut microbiome and its effects, health care providers can offer more targeted treatments to patients.

Both studies are found in Science.

Photo: Michael Stern | Flickr

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