The importance of gastrointestinal system to human health and diseases has been anticipated by Hippocrates (460-370BC), who remains one of the most outstanding men in the history of human medicine. Long ago he stated the following aphorisms:
- All diseases begin in the gut,
- Bad digestion is the root of evil and
- Death sit in the bowel
Hippocrates further affirms the importance of food for maintaining and promoting health by claiming that “Let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food”
But why did it take so long to start realising the importance of gut microbes to our health. One possible answer could be, because traditional enteric research focused on pathogenic microorganism entering the body, mostly through contamination of food, beverage and water to induce diseases and as such pay less attention to Hippocrates advice and insight to maintaining gut ecosystem for health. Another reason could be the lack of advanced technology to study these microbes in the past as we have in present days.
Now, let me tell you about a study which suggests a strong link between diet and human microbial diversity and quality. This study was reported by De Fillippo and others (2010) and involved children from rural Africa, Burkina Faso (BF) and European children (EU). The impact of diet on gut microbiota was revealed by a comparative study in children from BF and EU. The gut microbiota has been found to be significantly different between the two groups; with children from rural Burkinaso showing better diversity and quality in gut microbes than the EU children. The diet of Burkina children was characterised by high fibre and less calorie intake compared to EU children diet which was characterised by low fibre and high calorie intake. Burkina Faso children also had longer period of exposure to breast feeding (up to 2 years) compared to EU children which had less period of exposure to breast feeding (up to 1 year). Of course, I will address the topic on the importance of breast feeding in my upcoming posts on origin of gut microbes, functionality and preferred food types. Further, data from the same study suggest that diet rich in polysaccharide and low in sugar and fat could select short Chain fatty acids- producing bacteria. Short chain fatty acids in particular, propionic and butyric acids were about four times more abundant in BF than in EU. The protective effect of Short chain fatty acids again certain type of cancer is well known in literature. It is worth noting that gut microbiota of BF children revealed significant enrichment in bacteriodetes and less firmicutes, with dominant bacteria from the genus Prevotella and xylanibacter, which are known to contain set of gene bacteria that can hydrolyse cellulose and xylan. If you want to read more about this study, please refer to this link: www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1005963107.
To conclude, let me leave you with my own thoughts on the findings of the study that I briefly described above. I believe that this one important study that highlighted the richness of traditional plant based African diet in shaping our gut microbes and health. This call for the need to be cautious about the nutritional transition characterised by the increasing adoption of western diet to the detriment of traditional African diet. Of course, western diet is convenient and fast and well adapted to our current life style. But, at the same we need think of the health implication of increasing consumption of western type diet such as poor microbial diversity, weight gain, obesity and associated diseases such as Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD), diabetes and cancer. I am aware of the challenges associated with the preparation of traditional African dishes. However, in order to maintain good health, we have to make a conscious effort to choose the right food. We need to preserve the richness of traditional African diet and find ways to adapt these foods to our changing lifestyle.
The old saying: “you are what you eat” is still relevant today.
In my next post, I will be discuss the origin of microbes, types and functionality. The preferred food types by our gut microbes for maintaining microbial diversity and health will be covered?
“The microbes living inside you can make you healthy or sick. By following me, you will get to know more about intestinal microbes and how these microbes can affect your health positively. This is a unique message on health education from microbial perspective. My health education message will help you to make significant change to your eating habits and consequently maintain or improve your microbial diversity, loose weight and regain control of your health”
De Fillipo, et al., 2010. Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa. www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1005963107
Ple et al., 2015. Maintaining gut ecosystems for health: are transitory food bugs stow away or part of the crew? International Journal of Food Microbiology, 213, 139-143
Cani and Knauf 2016. How gut microbe talk to organs: the role of endocrine and nervous system, Molecylar Metabolism, 5, 743-752.