I started paying attention to information about gut bacteria after my friend Amanda started educating me about fermenting food. She introduced me to the fact that science is increasingly linking many food-related ailments to our gut bacteria. I'm still learning about it, and I found the results of a recent study interesting.

The scientific study by Harvard University scientists put volunteers on extreme diets to see if consumption of certain foods can significantly alter gut bacteria in a short period of time.

A group of nine volunteers were first put on an extreme diet of meat, eggs and cheese for five days. After a break, the same volunteers were then put on an all plant-based diet of legumes, grains, fruits and vegetables.

During both time periods, the change in gut bacteria was evident after three days. When the gut bacteria of the volunteers during the animal-product only diet was tested, their guts began to make “microbes that ‘love bile’ — the Bilophila.” It’s believed that Bilophila promotes inflammation in the stomach. When the volunteers ate the plant-only diet, there was not an increase in Bilophila.

Of course, the meat diet was extreme, and for many people, the plant-based only diet was extreme also. Most of us, except for vegans, eat a combination of plant and animal products. If so, why should we be interested in the results of this study?

The results are interesting, and I’d also say they’re important, because as study contributor Dr. Lawrence David noted, “Our study is a proof of concept that you can modify the microbiome through diet.” It’s an initial step in figuring out how to treat intestinal diseases with diet.

The researchers admit they are a long way off from being able to “manipulate the community” of bacteria in a person’s stomach to actually treat disease, but it’s a step in the right direction. That’s why the study is important.  When the scientific community is working to discover how changing what we eat can treat diseases, instead of just creating drugs that will manage the diseases that our diets may create, it’s important.

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Manipulating gut bacteria may cure disease, study shows
Researchers fed volunteers extreme diets of animal products followed by extreme diets of plant products and found gut bacteria changed according to diet.