September 19, 2016
You probably already understand how important gut microbiota is to your overall health. It is a topic frequently discussed by the media and also by us here at Natren. Microbial diversity is a factor in many common disease processes and weight management but how do you get there? Eating a balanced and nutritional diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains helps, but is it enough?
What about the stuff you eat and drink just for the pleasure of it like coffee, tea or chocolate? Are they taboo in a healthy diet? The answer to these questions may surprise you because dark chocolate and even red wine might have more influence on the gut microbiota than most people realize. Consider two studies that explain why your core diet and the little things you treat yourself to can impact your gut health.
The Flemish Gut Flora Project conducted by Jeroen Roes, a researcher with the Flanders Institute of Biotechnology, is one of the largest global studies on gut microbiota diversity ever conducted. The project analyzed over 1,000 samples and then cross-checked their findings with another health monitoring program.
In this study, they found 69 different factors contributed to the diversity of the gut microbiota and most of them involved diet. Bacteria in the gut play a role in digestion and the absorption of nutrients, so it makes sense that they would be a factor in your general health, too. For example, certain bacteria help process simple carbohydrates and sugars, but they also affect the overall microbial population in the gut. Their presence prevents other species of bacteria from thriving in an intestinal community and that may impact your health, as well.
A few concepts became clear to researchers working on the Flemish Gut Flora Project:
The research offers insight into what kinds of foods might increase or decrease gut microbiota, assuming a definition of “normal” is established.
As part of the study, they looked at what effect drugs have on gut health, as well. This includes not just antibiotics, but:
The data shows they all have a strong influence to change the gut microbitoa just like diet can.
Cisca Wijmenga and other scientists with Groningen University in The Netherlands did a similar study to determine how diet relates to microbial gut populations. This group used a different analysis approach that looked for markers for gut microbiome composition. The study involved the evaluation of 1,135 stool samples.
Researchers conducting this study came to many of the same conclusions as the one with the Flemish Gut Flora Project, specifically, what you eat matters to gut diversity. The study showed foods like nuts, coffee, dark chocolate and red wine favor an enhanced bacterial diversity in the gut. They discovered a total of 60 different dietary factors that influenced gut health.
What do these findings mean for the average consumer? The studies make associations between things you might think you need to avoid. Dark chocolate and red wine have been connected in the past for their potential impact on heart health, but now we know there might be even more benefits to eating and drinking certain foods in moderation.
This is good and very tasty news for probiotic enthusiasts everywhere. It turns out that probiotics, dark chocolate and red wine might be healthy bedfellows, after all. The problem associated with foods rich in polyphenols like dark chocolate is the body has trouble absorbing this nutrient. The right mix of bacteria may be the answer, though. Scientists tested this theory by creating an artificial digestive tract and introducing various cocoa powders to it.
Before you go out and binge on your favorite red wine and dark chocolate treat, keep in mind that none of this is conclusive evidence. It will take more clinical studies to fully understand the impact of dark chocolate, red wine and other tasty goodies on gut microbiota. These two studies are promising news for sweethearts and health lovers all over the world, though.
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