Lifestyle ‘affects gut flora composition’

A new study published by the journal Science has linked lifestyle as well as diet and health to the gut flora composition as part of a major research on the group of bacteria living in the intestine.

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Research of the Flemish Gut Flora Project carried out in Belgium identified 69 factors associated with the gut flora composition and diversity, most of them related to health, diet, medication, gender, age and lifestyle.

“Our research has given us a tremendous amount of new insight into the microbiota composition of normal people … However, analysing the average gut flora is essential for developing gut bacteria-based diagnostics and drugs,” said project initiator Jeroen Raes.

With regards to diet, the most decisive element in determining the gut flora composition was fibre consumption, although a relationship between a group of bacteria and consumption of dark chocolate was also found as well as another with beer consumption.

Antibiotics and laxatives, as well as medications against fever and contraceptive hormones or to alleviate menopause symptoms also determined gut flora composition.

According to Raes, it was a surprise to find the technique used by doctors to help mothers during labour or whether the child had taken breastfed milk or not had no influence on the gut flora composition.

“These results are essential for disease studies. Parkinson’s disease, for example, is typically associated with a longer intestinal transit time, which in turn impacts microbiota composition… These and many other observations can help scientists in their research into future therapies,” concluded Raes.