Your diet choices today could affect members of your family who have not even been born yet. A recent study suggests that, while changing your diet today can help your body recover, a poor diet over the course of several generations can forever alter the digestive tract of your descendants within three or four generations. This means your great-grandchildren can suffer negative effects from what you eat today.
Results from a Stanford University School of Medicine study suggest low-fiber diets, like those commonly consumed in the United States and other industrial societies, can result in health problems that you can pass along to future generations.
RESEARCH SHOWS YOUR CURRENT DIET AFFECTS FUTURE GENERATIONS
Researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine, Harvard and Princeton fed ten mice a diet rich in a specific type of plant-based dietary fiber known as microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs) for six weeks. The scientists then divided the mice into two groups. They fed the mice in the test group a diet low in MACs for the next several weeks but continued feeding the mice in the control group a diet high in MACs
At the start of the experiment, the microbiota was the same in all ten mice. By the end of the experiment, the microbiota in the mice that ate a MAC-poor diet was very different from the bacteria in the guts of the control mice that continued eating a MAC-rich diet. The researchers switched the mice in the test group back to a diet high in microbiota-accessible carbohydrates for a few weeks then re-evaluated the bacterial colonies. They found that the microbiota of the test mice were still completely different from the gut bacteria of the mice in the control group.
These results were not necessarily surprising, as scientists already recognize that microbiota-accessible carbohydrates affect beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract.
What happened next, however, was surprising.
The researchers bred the mice and continued feeding low-MAC diets to subsequent generations of mice. By the fourth generation, 75 percent of the bacteria found in the first generation had completely disappeared. Two out of three species of bacteria did not come back, even after the researchers put the mice back on high-MAC diets.
WHAT DOES THIS LOW BACTERIAL DIVERSITY MEAN?
High bacterial diversity in the digestive system is a significant health factor. Simply put, without a broad range of different bacterial strains, your immune system is unable to function effectively, the body is unable to effectively extract nutrients from food, and the fabric of the gut is susceptible to attack from destructive pathogens.
The Stanford study shows that the typical American diet depletes the microbial ecosystems in the gut and causes an irreversible loss of diversity within those ecosystems. Once a species of bacteria has disappeared from the body, simply ‘eating right’ will not bring it back. Depending on the eating habits of their parents and grandparents, many people in the United States may already be heading down that path.
Scientists have suggested a variety of factors that may contribute to this low bacterial diversity, including widespread use of antibiotics, an increased use of Cesarean sections and less frequent breastfeeding. Antibiotics can kill off beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, even if the antibacterial treatment was prescribed to treat another part of the body. Babies born by Cesarean section do not travel through the birth canal and therefore miss an important opportunity to pick up bacteria from the mother. Bottle-fed babies also miss the opportunity to pick up beneficial bacteria from breast milk.
We cannot go back to our ancestral diet – modern farming practices and genetically modified crops prevent humans from eating the way we did even a hundred years ago. We can, however, learn what made diets so healthy prior to the 20th century. We can also look to other nations to learn why people in the United States have comparatively poorer microbiota diversity than residents of less developed countries.
Changes in cultural practices could help reduce bacterial extinction in the gut. Selective hand washing, reduced antibiotic use and other conservative measures could help introduce and maintain beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
Researchers in the Stanford study showed that changes in the microbiota after consuming a low-MAC diet are largely reversible within a single generation but that a low-MAC diet over several generations can cause a progressive and irrecoverable loss of diversity.
Replacing the missing bacteria with probiotic supplementation is a potential solution to rebuilding the gut ecosystem. Probiotic supplements provide many of the bacterial species lacking in the modern American gut and can reduce the risk that your diet choices today will affect your descendants.
It’s commonly assumed that if a lack of gut diversity is the issue, the solution must be to take a multi-strain highly diverse probiotic supplement. This thinking is wrong however because probiotic supplements that are packed full of multiple strains don’t make biological or scientific sense. Bacteria are antagonistic by nature, meaning they will fight one another for survival and inhibit one another to increase their own growth and decrease each other’s growth.
If you pack one supplement full of multiple strains with nothing to keep them separate and non-competitive, chances are, by the time the end user actually takes the supplement many of the strains are no longer present. There are manufacturers of multi-strains who even openly admit this on their packaging stating 12 or 15 strains in the ingredients but when you read the fine print below you will see, “All strains may not be present in final product.” If you are interested in learning more about Multi-Strain probiotics and why Natren maintains that these are not scientifically valid, please read this blog online where we’ve included numerous links to additional scientific information: www.natren.com/blog