If you’re not convinced that eating a healthy diet is crucial to your health, and perhaps for reasons that might be a surprise, you may remember the story of an undergraduate student who spent a solid month eating breakfast, lunch and dinner at McDonald’s. The rule was that every time someone took his order and asked if he wanted something “super-sized” he had to go for it.
Over those few days and weeks, he not only gained weight, his liver was damaged and several other changes took place that prompted his doctor to advise him to go off the diet for the sake of his long-term health.
At the time, the high levels of the worst kinds of fat, high carbs and a blend of toxic preservatives and other chemicals were blamed for his quickly failing condition, but as The Conversation astutely notes, tongue in cheek, there are “others” who don’t appreciate being fed a fast-food diet: the microbes teeming in your intestines:
“These are the hundred trillion microbes that outnumber our total human cells ten to one and digest our food, provide many vitamins and nutrients and keep us healthy. Until recently we have viewed them as harmful — but those (like salmonella) are a tiny minority and most are essential for us.”1
The premise has been backed up by other studies2 showing this to be the case — that atherosclerosis can even be induced by combining a “low colonic bacterial diversity” gut with a high, “bad” fat diet. Bacteria and fungi in your digestive tract, principally your large intestine, and the type of food you’re eating — while simultaneously “feeding” the critters that make up your microbiome — can make or break your health. Your gut health sets the tone for your mood, metabolism, immune system and so much more.3
How Do You Measure Someone’s Gut Microbiome?
A couple of scientists conjectured that while someone’s low microbiome population makes a positive shift when they begin eating a healthier diet, it wasn’t clear whether someone with a “healthy stable” gut bacteria could be improved in a matter of days.
When Tim Spector, researcher and professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, joined colleague Jeff Leach (founder of the American Gut, the world’s largest open-source/crowd-funded microbiome project in the world) in Tanzania where the latter had been living and working among one of the last hunter-gatherer groups in Africa, the Hadza, they had an opportunity to find out.
As previously noted, a “low-diversity” gut is one that doesn’t have a wide representation of bacteria, which makes the individual more susceptible to disease. An organization called Map My Gut can assess the diversity of peoples’ gut ecosystems using state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology to identify microbes. This is done by “matching” pieces of bacterial DNA, the website explains:
“We literally create a map of the microbial contents of your gut, hence the name. Our microbiome specialists then add an individualized analysis of your results. Finally, we create a thorough report that describes the key microbes we’ve found living inside you and what they mean for you and your health.”4
Analysts representing Map My Gut suggest that people who have trouble controlling their weight, have been on antibiotics long term, have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis or other gut issues, want to change their diet or are interested in learning the status of their gut health may benefit from such an assessment.
The ‘Most Diverse Microbiome on the Planet’
Spector had his intestinal flora tested along with 100 other people and discovered that his own microbiome was the healthiest of all of them — or more correctly, had the best gut diversity, which is linked to a low risk of many diseases as well as obesity. As it happens, the Hadza people have the richest and most diverse gut health on the planet.
Leach suggested that Spector adopt a three-day nutritional plan of adopting the Hadza hunter-gatherer diet, which wastes nothing and kills nothing unnecessarily. One has to wonder if he at that point wondered what he might be agreeing to; Spector wrote for CNN:
“I would measure my gut microbes before heading to Tanzania, during my stay with the Hadza, and after my return to the UK. I was also not allowed to wash or use alcohol swabs and I was expected to hunt and forage with the Hadza as much as possible — including coming in contact with the odd Hadza baby and baboon poo lying about.”5
After only three days with the remote tribe and eating everything they ate, the team, including Leach and his “poo” samples, would return to London for sample testing.