In mid-April, science journal Nature published a paper announcing that a team of researchers, lead by Peer Bork, had discovered three gut types.
Scientists have been busy cataloging the whole genetic code of gut microbiota, as well as the metagenetics of microbial communities for some time now. Since 2008, researchers have been sequencing microbial DNA in order to identify the microorganisms associated with human beings in both a diseased and a healthy state.
It turns out that while each human body is made of roughly 10 trillion cells, we each individually host about a hundred trillion bacteria. The Human Microbiome Project (HMP) is sponsored by the United States National Institutes of Health in an effort to understand how microbial communities are related to health.
The gut types have not been named nor has it been confirmed that there are only three.
The study looked at the microbiomes, or collective microbiotic environment, of 39 individuals from 6 different countries. What research found was that in spite of differences in weight, age, gender, and nationality, three distinct clusters of microbiota formation arose. They announced that these robust clusters are called enterotypes, or gut types. (1)
While the discovery is exciting and groundbreaking, it is just the tip of the iceberg.
Bork and fellow researches made note several times in the study that more data must be collected. The study pulled from a small sample: 39 individuals from 6 different countries. Because there are billions of people spanning several demographic variables and almost two hundred populations worldwide, there is certainly more to investigate. Nonetheless, the findings that Bork reports clearly define that there is indeed such a thing as a “gut type.”
Gut types do exist! While much more research is necessary to classify specific gut types, we do know that you can support healthy bacteria in your gut by enjoying fermented foods and avoiding processed foods in your diet.
What we do know about gut types:
- Weight, age, gender, and nationality play no role in determining gut type.
- The types are driven by species composition. Meaning, so far, one species dominates one enterotype.
- Marker genes correlate with gut types. As an example, 12 genes were found to be specifically age-related.
- Functional modules, or what one gut type microbial community does in the body, correlate with variables such as weight or age. For example, three functional modules correlate with weight.
In fact, the word enterotype did not exist until the research of Bork and his colleagues was released.
An enterotype is a robust cluster of microbial communities housed within the gut.
The discovery of enterotypes means that pharmaceutical intervention, as well as diet, can be tailored and customized to maximize the symbiotic relationship that each individual has with gut microbiota. Gut type can also be helpful in identifying certain biomarkers of chronic disease conditions, such as cancer or diabetes.
How to Find Out Your Enterotype:
So far, finding out your own gut type means collecting a fecal sample and unraveling the genetic information stored in several hundred species of bacteria making up the microbiome inside your gut.
The information recently gathered by scientists is the first inkling of data that will eventually be the foundation of a comprehensive system to understanding enterotypes.
Until this system is solidly in place, using traditional routes to support a healthy inner ecology is the best thing to do since it is apparent that these little bugs, outnumbering our own cells ten to one, can either enhance or derail our state of health.
What are traditional routes that support a well-balanced inner ecology? Two factors:
- Consumption of cultured foods. Evidence of fermented foods and beverages has been documented up to several thousand years ago. For example, milk fermentation is known to have been in place in Babylon at around 3000 BC. Modern food processing that eliminates all microbial life and enzymes is a recent phenomenon. Modern food processing correlates with the rise of chronic degenerative disease that we have seen in the last 100 years.
There is also a substantial body of research concluding that we live symbiotically with the microbes in our guts. Consumption of fermented foods and beverages actually builds the number of beneficial microbial communities in the intestinal tract. Body Ecology’s Kefir Starter Culture, Vegetable Starter Culture, and Probiotic Beverages are essential to build a healthy inner ecosystem.
- Diet. Consistent data shows that environment plays an outstanding role in exactly what species of microbes you host. Species matters. Research also suggests that certain bacteria have been found to promote weight gain and even shape the developing mind of an infant. (2)(3)
Eat the Standard American Diet, which largely consists of devitalized, processed carbohydrates and proteins, and you will house different bacteria than someone who eats traditionally cultured foods, plenty of vegetables rich in plant fibers, healthy fats and, if an omnivore, a balanced ratio of wild or organic meats and animal proteins.
The Body Ecology Principle of 80/20 means that a meal is easiest to digest if 20% of it is either soaked grains or an animal protein. This 80/20 principle also affects the microbiota your gut harbors. Food that lingers in the intestinal tract is more likely to ferment and promote the proliferation of pathogenic microbes.
What To Remember Most About This Article:
Researchers recently discovered three distinct gut types that can impact the health for better or worse. However, these gut types have not yet been classified, and there is no indication that gut types will only be limited to three categories.
The gut type study was done on a relatively small sample of only 39 participants from 6 different countries. This research concluded that distinct gut types were present regardless of weight, age, gender, and nationality. This exciting study confirms that gut types do exist, but much more research is required before specific gut types can be confirmed.
- Arumugam, Raes et al. May 2011. Enterotypes of the human gut microbiome. Nature 473, 174 -180 DOI: 10.1038/nature09944
- Ruth E. Ley, Peter J. Turnbaugh, Samuel Klein, Jeffrey I. Gordon (2006). Microbial ecology: Human gut microbes associated with obesity Nature, 444 (7122), 1022-1023 DOI: 10.1038/4441022a
- Heijtz, Wang, Anuar, Qian, Björkholm, Samuelsson, Hibberd, Forssberg & Petterson. 2011. Normal gut microbiota modulates brain development and behaviour. PNAS http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1010529108