Everyone wants to stay healthy. So walking around with antibacterial soaps, sprays and sanitizers often seems like a safeguard against disease-causing microbes.
But did you know that 90 percent of the cells in your body are actually microbial – and only 10 percent human cells? Many of these microbiota are good for us. As it turns out, our diet directly impacts these microbiota – and our genes. The science behind this is fascinating but complex, so hang with me.
Each and every one of these microbiota comes complete with their own set of DNA. And just like all DNA, certain genes are “expressed” while others remain silent. Researchers are now linking the expression of microbial DNA with the onset of several diseases, and a healthy helping of these microbiota live in your gut.
The human digestive tract is comprised of millions of microbiota. The microbiota, along with their DNA and gene expression, make up a microbiome that is unique to each individual. Scientists are on the verge of understanding how these microbiota work, but preliminary research has shown that diet is one of the most important factors attributing to healthy gut bacteria. In order for gene expression to be realized, the microbiota need to be fed properly. In many cases that means a diet more in line with our hunter/gatherer ancestors. When these needs are met, healthy gut microbiota can flourish and greater overall health is often the result.
The American diet consists largely of highly refined, genetically engineered foods, chemicals and additives that our bodies just weren’t designed to consume. Scientists believe that the lack of complex plant carbohydrates are a contributing factor to most of the chronic inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases many Americans face today. They reason that the microbiota that usually processes these carbohydrates aren’t actively being used for their designed purpose, so their gene expression never comes to fruition, throwing off the dynamic of the microbiome.
To make matters worse, the excessive trans fat, sugar, additives and chemicals that flood the gut alter gene expression, which researchers believe causes inflammation. Researchers in Australia found that pigs fed a diet high in genetically engineered feed experienced a much higher rate of severe stomach inflammation than those fed non-genetically altered feeds.
One study found that altering the gene expression of gut bacteria decreased the risk for developing cardiovascular disease and could be an effective means of treating it. But, this “modification” isn’t achieved with a pill or a potion, but with dietary changes.
While research is at the beginning stages, scientists are hopeful that by learning how to encourage proper gene expression in gut bacteria, a number of diseases can be avoided. And, by finding ways to alter the current gene expression in a microbiome, researchers hope to find new ways to treat the inflammatory diseases that are plaguing millions each year. The “perfect” diet has not yet been discovered, and may never be as each individual is unique, but consuming a diet rich in organic fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed food as much as possible is one step that can keep gut microbiota happy.