SIAL Talks: How to harness your 100 trillion gut microbes for better health
There is a link between our gut microbes, the food we eat, and health. At SIAL Talks last October, Mathilde Hazon, manager research, development, and innovation at Nahibu, explained how the three are connected and why their relationship is so critical to our well-being.
Gut microbiota is the terms used for all the microbes, viruses, and fungi found in this part of the body. “Just to give you an idea: in your stomach you have 10,000 bacteria per millilitre rising to 10 million in the small intestine, and in the colon it goes up to 10 billion or even more,” said Hazon.
Every human gut is home to about 160 bacterial species and while we share common types, the microbes profile for individuals is unique according to Hazon. Nahibu offers personal microbiome profiling, and through its data sets it has found that are around 600 bacterial species that are commonly found in humans. The difference in individuals lies mainly in the proportions.
A proportional view
Because gut microbiota impact a lot of functions in the body – for example immunity, inflammation, metabolism, energy storage, and vitamin production – these proportions are important. “Depending on your gut microbiota, you can improve inflammation rates and if you didn’t have (these bacteria) you would not be able to produce certain vitamins such as B or K,” Hazon said.
The scientific literature also suggest a relationship between gut microbiota and the nervous system. “This affects metal health, depression and stress,” said Hazon, adding that the bacteria also helped to metabolise toxins.
Diet influences the gut microbes and the proportions of bacteria. “Many years ago, the human diet was plant based, and very rich in fibre which is highly accessible for the microbiota. Through agriculture our diets evolved and now, in the industrialisation phase, we have diets that are lower in fibre, while antibiotics use affects the bacteria and lowers their diversity,” Hazon noted.
Mediterranean diet and fermented foods
A diet that is said to encourage a good and well-balanced microbiota is the Mediterranean diet. It contains a lot of vegetables, fruits and wholegrains that have plenty of fibre. Animal products like meat and cheese are present in lower quantity, and there is lower wine and sugar consumption. “Lots of studies have shown that this kind of diet gives protection against cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, cancer, and allergies,” said Hazon. “So how does it work?”
The Mediterranean diet has about twice the fibre of an Occidental (or western) diet, the latter leading to a greater likelihood of inflammatory and auto-immune diseases, and allergies. Sugar, salt, animal fat and additives found in western diets decrease the diversity of gut microbes.
Hazon also noted that fermented food is an interesting aspect of gut microbiota. Historically fermentation was was used for food storage but studies show that these foods increase microbe/bacterial colonisation of the colon. Polyphenols, found in fruit, vegetables, coffee, cacao also increase the proportion of good gut bacteria.
There are several types of good gut microbiota – it’s more about the balance of the species in each case. “It’s an ecosystem between the whole organism and the bacteria,” said Hazon. “A healthy gut microbiota is one that is balanced and when this is disturbed it can lead to inflammatory or other kinds of diseases.”
Hazon added that the greater diversity there is, the better, because this limits colonisation by pathogens which find it hard to get a foothold in a balanced and full ecosystem. Also a diverse gut microbiota means more functionality.
Linking this all together is something that Nahibu does. Founded in 2019, the company’s gut microbiome testing procedure uses a simply kit at home. It is then analysed to give a customer a full understanding of their microbiome and the microbes it contains, which functions are affected, and how to improve them.
The company has already tested thousands of people and has mapped out the full range of good bacteria and their impact on health. Nahibu has also analysed the short-chain fatty acids production capabilities that are important for health. “We also run through a functional analysis; digestion, fitness, and food intake and give you a score of your microbiota compared to the healthy people we have in our cohorts,” said Hazon.
By knowing what’s in an individual’s gut microbiota, Nahibu can then personalise its advice and propose a range of probiotics adapted to each individual. The company is a participant in the Million Microbiomes from Humans Project (MMHP) global consortium, by supporting the French initiative Le French Gut (more details in the video below).
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