One thing I love about being a part of the ancestral health community is the attention given to our bodies’ microbiota.
For example, Chris Kresser, one of my all-time healthy living heros, has been a pioneer in disseminating knowledge about the role that gut bacteria plays in a variety of health issues. Some of my favorite articles from his arsenal are:
- The high price of antibiotic use: can our guts ever fully recover?
- The gut-skin connection: how altered gut function affects the skin
- Could a leaky gut be making you fat?
- How stress wreaks havoc on your gut – and what to do about it
- A healthy gut is the hidden key to weight loss
- The thyroid-gut connection
- Poop: the cure of the future?
It’s incredible how many different health conditions are affected by the balance of gut bacteria – obesity, diabetes, skin conditions, mental illness, thyroid function, and more. In some ways, it makes me wonder if the quality of our gut bacteria has more to do with our health and fitness than any of the other factors we pay attention to so carefully, such as diet and exercise.
Of course, there’s reason to believe that the type of diet you eat will drastically affect the quality of your gut microbiota. This is why many people likely experience dramatic benefits from a variety of weight loss diets – everything from Paleo to vegetarian/vegan diets are a major improvement over the standard American diet filled with processed grains, sugar, fake fats, and artificial ingredients. And while I don’t see vegetarian/vegan diets as being appropriate for long term use, I do think that the emphasis on fibrous fruits and vegetables can play an important role in improving gut microflora.
That’s why I’m really excited about the American Gut project, which aims to determine how our diet and lifestyle shape the gut microbiome.
The folks over at the Human Food Project are looking to gather thousands of samples from a diverse population, and correlate certain factors such as diet, regional location, activity levels, and other lifestyle factors to see how these choices affect our microbiome development. They will even be cross-referencing the data with those living traditional lifestyles such as hunter-gatherers and farmers across the globe, from Peru to Namibia – how cool is that?
I recently saw this article written by the group: Why Every Registered Dietitian Should Sign up for American Gut which prompted me to find out more about the project. As a future dietitian, I’m realizing more and more how essential it is to determine how dietary changes can affect our gut bacteria, and whether or not a person’s individual microbiome should determine what kind of food they eat. Who knows, the data may even lend further support to an ancestral-style diet as being the optimal healthy diet option! To find out more about why this project is so important, take a few minutes to watch Jonathan Eisen’s TED Talk and a Year in the Life of Eric Alm’s microbiome. Both of these videos demonstrate the power of our gut microbiota to drastically change our body’s function.
I think this research is crucial to understanding how gut bacteria affects our health and interacts with our diet… so I’ve decided to participate in this awesome project!
I’ll be getting my own microbiome sampled, and I’ll be sharing the results on the blog once I receive them. I’m excited to find out how my gut bacteria compares to others, and if there are specific diet and lifestyle changes I should make to further improve my inner ecosystem. Or perhaps I’ll realize that all the attention I’ve paid to my diet over the last few years has actually paid off! Either way, I’ll find out soon!
Since this project is funded by crowd-sourcing, it’s really important to get as many people as possible to participate. For $99, you can get a DNA extraction and 16S rRNA sequencing of one stool sample (or an oral or skin sample – the same kit works for any of these), and find out which bacteria and archaea were present in that sample along with how much of each kind. You will get a certificate suitable for framing with a readout of your microbes and a view of your microbes in the context of other people’s. To find out more, check out the American Gut funding page. You can also apply for a subsidized kit here.
If you’re not that interested in learning about your personal gut microflora, you can always just donate a bit of money to help get this project funded. I think it’s really important not only to understand what components of the gut microflora are associated with optimal health, but also to determine if (and how) our diets can alter the composition of our personal microbiome. We might even be able to use this research to support our own personal dietary choices!
I hope this research will add to our knowledge about what constitutes a healthy diet, and I’m especially excited to find out if the Paleo/Primal/Ancestral diet is significantly beneficial when it comes to developing a healthy inner ecosystem! Stay tuned for more information once I’ve submitted my sample!
Here are some more resources to learn more about the project:
- American (Gut) Gothic: 5 things you can do for a healthier microbiome in 2013
- What Lives in Your Gut?
- Help Scientists by Sending Them a Stool Sample
- “American Gut” – One of the Most Important Health Projects of the 21st Century
- Researchers tapping citizen-scientists for a novel gut check
- Groundbreaking Research on Importance of Bacteria
- New public gut bacteria study expected to reach around world