7 Reasons Same Exact Foods Affect Individuals Gut Bacteria Differently

7 Reasons Same Exact Foods Affect Individuals Gut Bacteria Differently

7 Reasons Same Exact Foods Affect Individuals Gut Bacteria Differently


The complexity of the gut and its importance to our overall health is a topic of increasing research in the medical community. Numerous studies in the past two decades have demonstrated links between gut health and the immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and cancer.

Many facets of modern life such as high stress levels, too little sleep, eating processed and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics can all damage our gut microbiome. This in turn may affect other aspects of our health, such as the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, ability to absorb nutrients, and even the development of cancer.

According to a new research has discovered the types of foods people eat really do impact the makeup of their gut microbiomes. However, the same food can have opposite effects in two different individuals. That means that the specifics of how diet will influence any given person’s gut are still a mystery.

“A lot of the response of the microbiome to foods is going to be personalized, because each person has that unique mixture [of microbes] that’s special only to them,” said Dan Knights, a computational microbiologist at the University of Minnesota.

A few studies have suggested that diet can influence the microbiome, but the connection is poorly understood. He and his colleagues tackled the problem by asking 34 healthy volunteers to record every morsel of food and drink they consumed for 17 days straight.

The participants then collected stool samples over the course of the study, which the researchers analyzed with a method called shotgun metagenomics. This method involves taking random samples of the genetic sequences in the microbes in the fecal material, Knights said, then piecing together what species and what genes those sequences came from.

This very detailed approach revealed that diet does indeed affect the gut bacteria. In a given person, the researchers could predict changes in the microbiome based on what they’d eaten in the days prior. For each person, they found a median of nine specific relationships between a type of food and specific gut microbiome changes.

But those changes didn’t generalize well from one person to the next. The team found 109 total food-gut microbe relationships that were shared by more than one research participant — but only eight that were shared by more than two. And of those eight, five of the relationships went in opposite directions. In one participant, eating a particular veggie caused a specific group of bacteria to multiply like mad. In another, that same veggie could quash that same group of bacteria.

Despite the unique nature of each microbiome’s response to specific foods, Knights believes there is a way to make sense of the data.

Doing so will require two approaches, he said. The first is to drill deep into what’s actually in specific foods. Researchers will need to identify specific compounds that gut microbes metabolize, to understand the nitty-gritty details of the gut ecosystem.

The study was funded by General Mills, the food manufacturer, reflecting that company’s interest in basic nutrition research, Knights said. One major question he and his colleagues want to tackle is how the modern American diet affects the microbiome. People living in developing nations or in more traditional cultures have different gut microbiome communities from what’s found in developed nations, Knights said.

Signs Of An Unhealthy Gut

1. Upset stomach

Stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn can all be signs of an unhealthy gut. A balanced gut will have less difficulty processing food and eliminating waste.

2. A high-sugar diet

A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the amount of good bacteria in your gut. This imbalance can cause increased sugar cravings, which can damage your gut still further. High amounts of refined sugars, particularly high-fructose corn syrup, have been linked to increased inflammation in the body.

3. Unintentional weight changes

Gaining or losing weight without making changes to your diet or exercise habits may be a sign of an unhealthy gut. An imbalanced gut can impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients, regulate blood sugar, and store fat. Weight loss may be caused by small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), while weight gain may be caused by insulin resistance or the urge to overeat due to decreased nutrient absorption.

4. Sleep disturbances or constant fatigue

An unhealthy gut may contribute to sleep disturbances such as insomnia or poor sleep, and therefore lead to chronic fatigue. The majority of the body’s serotonin, a hormone that affects mood and sleep, is produced in the gut. So gut damage can impair your ability to sleep well.

5. Skin irritation

Skin conditions like eczema may be related to a damaged gut. Inflammation in the gut caused by a poor diet or food allergies may cause increased “leaking” of certain proteins out into the body, which can in turn irritate the skin and cause conditions such as eczema.

6. Autoimmune conditions

Medical researchers are continually finding evidence of the impact of the gut on the immune system Trusted Source. It’s thought that an unhealthy gut may increase systemic inflammation and alter the proper functioning of the immune system. This can lead to autoimmune diseases, where the body attacks itself rather than harmful invaders.

7. Food intolerances

Food intolerances are the result of difficulty digesting certain foods (this is different than a food allergy, which is caused by an immune system reaction to certain foods). It’s thought that food intolerances may be caused by poor quality of bacteria in the gut. This can lead to difficulty digesting the trigger foods and unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and nausea. There is some evidence that food allergies may also be related to gut health.

This article on "Hkitnob: Health Columns" is for informational purposes only, and is not meant to offer medical advice.