In Western industrial nations, people’s lifestyles – in particular their diets – have a detrimental impact on bacterial diversity in their gut, and hence our health. Writers in several newspapers and news agencies have emphasised these findings this month, referring to the results of research conducted by scientists in several countries.
Compared to indigenous people and people in developing countries, people in industrial countries may suffer less frequently from infectious diseases – primarily a result of basic hygiene. “On the other hand, however, chronic diseases such as allergies, enteritis, obesity, and diabetes are far more prevalent when compared to people with traditional lifestyles,” says an article in “Wissenschaft aktuell”, for instance. Differences in lifestyles, but also different diets, were mirrored by variations gut flora composition.
In one study, researchers examined the gut flora of people in Papua New Guinea. What they found was a bacterial diversity which was significantly greater compared to that of the gut flora of young people in the United States. “Biologists detected 47 microbes which were present in every gut in New Guinea, but remained essentially absent among students in the United States”, reported “Die Welt”, among others.
In a second study, scientists researched the microbiome of the Yanomami tribe near the Amazon in Venezuela. They live as hunter-gatherers and, until a few years ago, had no direct contact with modern society. Analysis of saliva, skin, and faecal samples revealed that members of the tribe had a particularly wide diversity of microbial species. “By contrast, skin and gut microbiome diversity of the average American is some 40 percent lower”, wrote “Die Welt”.
Yet researchers say that relaxing basic hygiene would be the wrong way to increase bacterial diversity in the human body. Rather, we should “think about how we can reduce the collateral damage of modern lifestyle practices on the gut microbiome without jeopardizing the benefits”, Andrew Greenhill of the Federation University Australia in Churchill is quoted as saying in “Wissenschaft aktuell”. “If we managed to stimulate the proliferation of those gut microbes which are present in insufficient numbers, we would be able to potentially treat or prevent diseases,” the article continues. Possible approaches could be dietary changes or food supplements.