Why Gut Health Is Different For All Of Us
100 trillion bacteria live naturally in our tummies. 100 trillion. The number doesn’t make much sense to me it’s so gigantic.
It is considered that this micro organic community is so finely balanced that even slight changes in the population can affect our immune system and exposure to diseases such as cancer, heart disease and obesity. In fact, recent discoveries have a lot to say about the link between the types of bacteria present in our gut and long-term weight gain.
So a major focus of scientific research in 2017 is this micro biome and how it affects us in a multitude of unforeseen ways. Investigating how our immune cells interact with our unique set of bacteria has the exciting potential - maybe the key - to providing the basis for effective personalised medicine in the future.
But how do you compare the many strains of bacteria? The field of nutrition and health is often criticised for the lack of ability to keep all other variables constant. How can we possibly narrow down cause and affect if there are so many potentially influencing factors? Some people may just have better genes for metabolising foods that are supposedly bad for you. We all know someone who looks amazing even though their lifestyle is no poster child material for health and wellness.
Step in Twins UK. Twins UK is the biggest twin registry for the study of age related diseases and studies the science of ‘healthy aging'. Run by the Department of Twin Research at King’s College London, it is the most clinically detailed registry of adult twins in the world and has identified over 400 novel gene loci in over 30 disease areas.
All this is achieved through examining participants totalling 12,000 identical and non-identical twins between the ages 16 and 98. A direct physical comparison allows us to spot details that may not have been noticed otherwise. I imagine this project is the closest we can ethically get to keeping at least genetic variables the same.
Research at TwinsUK has already shown that both identical and non-identical twins only share around 50% of bacterial group. If this doesn’t strike you as shocking, consider the fact that we share…
- 96% of our DNA with the person next to you
- 96% with chimps
- 85% with mice
- 61% with a fruit fly
- 60% with a banana.
Yup you read that right. A banana.
They’re now working on identifying their role and we can influence bacteria to improve our health and wellbeing. I’ll leave you with this fascinating study from Twins UK:
A recent pilot study led by British Gut showed that diets can change gut microbial diversity, even within a few days. Dietary interventions included a cheese and yogurt-heavy diet, dietary cleanses using only plant foods, and fasting. The dietary interventions, especially the more dramatic cleanses and fasts, did induce changes, but not in the same way in different individuals. Professor Rob Knight, co-founder of American Gut, said: ‘Unlike our human genomes, which are all more than 99 per cent the same, our microbiomes are mostly very different from one another. These microbial differences may explain why our bodies respond differently to different diets, but may ultimately help us predict which diets will work for which people.’
Interestingly, some people experienced more dramatic changes than others. ‘These results show that the effect of a dietary intervention – and the ability to detect an effect against background variation – varies from person to person,’ said Dr Luke Thompson, also of American Gut.