Wine is good for gut flora
Spinoza winner Wijmenga and her team examined more than 1,000 test subjects who were also taking part in the LifeLines programme, which has monitored the health of 165,000 residents of the northern Netherlands for years. They had to submit a stool sample and keep a journal about their nutritional behaviour. The information was linked to the details that LifeLines had in their database.
The results were spectacular. For the first time, it has been demonstrated that diet and medicine use can greatly influence the diversity of bacteria in the intestines. ‘And we already know that a more varied microbiome also means fewer illnesses. However, we do not yet know if that is the cause or the effect’, says Wijmenga.
Full fat milk
Illnesses often result from a multitude of factors, she emphasises. Most factors, such as genes or age, cannot be influenced. ‘But it is possible to modify the composition of your intestinal flora through diet and medication.’
In addition to the effects of specific foods, the researchers also looked into macronutrients like fat and carbohydrates. ‘What stood out was that fatty products, such as full fat milk, had a negative effect on diversity’, adds second author and dietician Ettje Tigchelaar. ‘And carbohydrates with long, complex fibres like those found in whole wheat products have a positive impact.’
Medications like antibiotics, antacids and metformine, an antidiabetic drug, also appear to cause a decrease in diversity in intestinal flora.
Wijmenga suspects that gut flora are something of a fingerprint for your lifestyle. Your intestines are a reflection of your lifestyle and diet. And the researchers say that this may very likely be just the tip of the iceberg.
The research is truly robust. In addition to Wijmenga’s ‘own’ publication in Science, she is also the co-author of a Flemish study, which is the second study featuring her name in the same issue. When she heard her colleagues from the Flemish Gut Flora Project present similar results at a conference in Heidelberg last year, she offered to verify their research. ‘They were using virtually the same methods, but we used a more sensitive technique’, says Wijmenga.