There are an endless number of differences between men and women and one of those differences is that eating exactly the same diet affects the gut microbiota composition of men and women differently, as a new study has recently showed.
As we have already explained in this blog, it’s a well-known fact that the food we eat and our lifestyles can alter the bacteria living inside our digestive systems, especially those responsible for warding off diseases and helping us digest food, among other important tasks.
Now, for the first time, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin (USA) and six other institutions have also taken into account the impact that gender and nutrition have on our gut flora. The researchers found a surprising result: eating the same food has a significant different effect in gut microbiota of males and females.
We are more bacteria than we are human: for every cell in our body, we host no fewer than ten microbes, most of them in our gut (our gut microbiota or gut flora). Just recently, scientists have only begun to get a better understanding of the role that these hundreds of trillion of bacteria play inside us, mainly in our digestive tract. Now scientists know, for instance, that these bacteria are important to be in good health and that we can influence this fragile ecosystem with our diet and daily habits.
Proof of this is with a new, controversial studysuggesting that artificially sweetened food may have a negative impact on the gut microbiota, leading to higher blood sugar levels, a condition that can be a precursor to diabetes. The animal study, published in Nature by researchers at the Weizmann Institute for Science in Revohot, Israel, concludes that artificial sweeteners such as saccharine or aspartame (frequently used in coffee, beverages and prepared food as a substitute for sugar) could, paradoxically, exacerbate the exact problems they are meant to solve: diabetes and obesity.
For a long time, the womb was considered to be a perfectly sterile environment, but in the last few years several findings have revealed the fact that babies might first come in contact with microbes precisely in their mother’s womb.
The bacteria of a pregnant woman’s placenta are more similar to those of her mouth than those of any other part of her body. If bacteria travel from the mouth to the placenta, it’s possible that food that passes through a pregnant mother’s mouth may end up influencing the baby’s future microbiota and his/her health. These findings were published in the magazine Science Translational Medicine, by a team led by Kjersti Aagaard, of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and Texas Children’s Hospital.
The scientists collected samples of 320 placentas of women that had given birth. To avoid contamination by vaginal bacteria, samples were harvested under sterile conditions. Then, they sequenced the genomes of the bacteria found in the samples. They expected to find bacteria from the vaginal flora, due to its proximity, but instead, the microbes were similar to those found in the mouth, however in much lower abundance.
Over the last few years, scientists have found that the microbes hosted in the digestive tract (the gut microbiota or gut flora) perform key functions for health. Digestion, immunity and even mental health are extremely dependent on tasks carried out by the gut bacteria.
Now, two studies have found that the human gut hosts five hundred species of microbes – and seven million microbial genes – that were unknown until now. The proportion of the gut flora that had been hidden until now may hold essential information on the origin of a range of diseases (IBD and metabolic syndrome, among others), as well as the clues on how to cure them.
The two studies were published in Nature Biotechnology in July, and come from the efforts of the MetaHIT (METAgenomics of the Human Intestinal Tract) project, a European consortium working to explore the composition of human gut microbiota.