There is also health in diversity, especially when it comes to the diversity of microorganisms living in your gut. A complex community of bacteria, viruses and other microbes, known collectively as the gut microbiome or microbiota, inhabit the intestinal tract. Many health professionals and consumers know that the microbiota affects health in both beneficial and unhealthy ways. Now researchers are beginning to understand that the effects of the microorganisms depend largely on the diversity of the species living there.
Unhealthy microorganisms, also known as pathogens, can cause bowel issues, obesity, and other unpleasant conditions. A person hosting large numbers of unhealthy bacteria in his or her gut is more likely to develop these problems.
Probiotic bacteria provide health benefits to the host. Probiotics can help ease diarrhea, improve mood, maintain heart health, and boost the immune system. A person can only gain these benefits if he or she has large populations of many different probiotic strains.
More than 1,000 species of bacteria can be found living inside a person’s digestive tract, about 160 species predominate in any given person with each person’s gut microbiota being unique to that individual, much like a fingerprint. Probiotic species constantly fight with pathogens for food and space within the gut. Species with large populations dominate over species with small populations. In a healthy body, probiotic species outnumber unhealthy species.
Dysbiosis is a condition where unhealthy bacteria outnumber healthy microorganisms. Research shows an association between dysbiosis with a number of medical illnesses, however, it doesn’t stop there. Research suggests dysbiosis in the gut can even lead to obesity, which leads to a whole other set of problems.
EFFECT OF DIET, EXERCISE, AND PROBIOTICS ON DIVERSITY
Research is showing that diet, exercise, and probiotics can affect the bacterial diversity in your gut, and therefore your health.
One study wanted to find out how diet affects diversity in the gut microbiome. They compared the bacteria living in the guts of Europeans with the bacteria living in members of the isolated Hadza tribe in Tanzania, who have been eating the same diet as their ancestors for hundreds of years. The Europeans ate processed foods that contain chemicals. The researchers discovered that the Europeans had bacteria in their guts that the members of the Hadza tribe did not. That means the gut bacteria in the Europeans genetically adapted to eat food that contains chemicals. The Hadza tribe members also had greater microbial diversity.
Another study shows that diet has a significant effect on microbial diversity by providing nutrients to probiotics living in the gut. To improve microbiome diversity, many people are now eating functional foods that provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Research shows that one type of functional food diets, known as FODMAP, can improve the diversity of the microbiome.
Exercise affects the microbiome. Researchers in one study discovered that the composition of microbes was different in mice that had exercised than in mice that had not. Scientists in another study found that obese rats have a different microbiome than rats of normal weight.
Exercise affects microbial diversity in humans too. One study of 40 professional rugby players found the athletes had twice the microbial diversity of non-athletes.
Probiotics can increase diversity in the gut microbiota by suppressing the growth of pathogens and competing for space and food. Specific strains help the host in different ways. We know that Lactobacillus strains can strengthen the intestinal barrier to let in nutrients but keep out pathogens. The study also showed that probiotics can cause positive changes in the microbiota and stabilize the microbial communities.
While multi-strain probiotics may appear to offer the convenience of several strains in a single dose, they may not promote diversity. In fact, multi-strain probiotics may cause competition between the various species of microbes; not all bacteria get along, so the different strains may fight to the death before they have a chance to provide benefits.
Taking a probiotic that offers targeted species may be a better solution. Lactobacillus acidophilus protects against pathogens, regulates digestion and helps with the breakdown of food. Bifidobacterium bifidum helps the body absorb and use nutrients, supports the production of B vitamins, and promotes regularity. Lactobacillus bulgaricus supports digestive motility and regularity.
The diversity of the microbiome affects health and wellness. Now research shows that a proper diet, regular exercise, and probiotics can support the diversity of the microbiome.