Krzysztof Czaja, associate professor of veterinary biosciences and diagnostic imaging in the College of Veterinary Medicine, was quoted in Time about the gut microbiome—the millions of bacteria that live inside the human digestive tract.
It’s fairly clear that the foods a person eats or doesn’t eat can affect the composition of his or her microbiome. Studies have linked microbiome-related imbalances to health conditions ranging from depression and Parkinson’s disease to heart disease. Research on mice has shown that switching from a fiber-and-antioxidant rich Mediterranean diet to a Western diet heavy in fat and protein can alter the microbiome’s population within a day. Diets high in sugar are able to decrease microbiome diversity within a week—a shift associated with irritable bowel syndrome and diabetes. Researchers also found that antibiotics or antibacterials are able to knock down or disrupt the human body’s microflora in ways that could promote disease or illness.
According to Czaja, these new discoveries are changing the way doctors think about and treat disease, but these are promising theories, not answers yet.
“Our understanding of mechanisms regulating the gut-microbiome-brain axis is negligible,” said Czaja, who is conducting microbiome research on rodents. “We are not even sure about the number of microbes in the human body.”
If your goal is to encourage healthy gut bacteria communities, “there is no perfect food or perfect bacteria cocktail,” he said.