People who love coffee, tea and wine will be happy to hear that scientists have found that all three beverages are associated with more microbial diversity in our microbiome.
The gut microbiome refers to the community of microbes that live in your digestive system, and the more diverse it is the better. While coffee, tea and wine benefit your microbiome, the opposite is true of sugary drinks, whole milk, eating lots of carbohydrates and regular snacking, according to a report in the journal Science.
Diversity makes for a better microbiome
“In total we found 60 dietary factors that influence diversity,” said Dr. Alexandra Zhernakova, a researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the first author of the study, in a statement. “But there is good correlation between diversity and health: greater diversity is better.”
The microbiome consists of bacteria, fungi and viruses that live on and in your body. They are mostly beneficial and help you process food and regulate your immune system. It is also believed to influence mood disorders, obesity and other diseases.
Scientists are still trying to work out what a healthy microbiome is like. This latest research goes some way to helping that research, thanks to the study of over 1,100 people.
Some foods better than others for your gut
Participants in the Netherlands collected stool samples before immediately freezing them. They remained frozen until they were later analyzed in a lab, ensuring that bacteria could not grow and change.
“In situations where samples are sent by post at room temperature, the time of the delivery for every sample is different,” she said. “That situation can lead to the growth of bacteria during transportation and adds additional ‘noise’ to the findings.”
The data showed that eating fruits, vegetables and yogurt helped increase microbial diversity, as did tea, wine, coffee and buttermilk.
Interestingly women were shown to have more microbial diversity than men, and older people had more than younger. The study did not investigate why some foods influence microbial diversity.
”For more complex food, such as fruits and vegetables, we don’t know the answer,” Fu said. “We can suggest that changes in fiber content and carbohydrate composition are playing a role, but this should be studied in detail in respect to every food item.”
The scientists want to carry out a larger study with 10,000 subjects and follow them over a longer period of time.
Medicines can influence microbial diversity
In a different study scientists cataloged the microorganisms found in the human digestive system by collecting fecal samples. By taking samples from all over the world they found a core group of 14 genera of microbes that were almost universally present.
Among the findings were links between microbial diversity and biological function. For example looser stools generally meant that people had higher microbial diversity than those who had hard dry stools.
One of the biggest factors was the taking of medication. Many drugs like antibiotics, osmotic laxatives, medications for inflammatory bowel disease, benzodiazepines, antidepressants, antihistamines or hormones used for birth control or to alleviate symptoms of menopause were found to influence microbial diversity.
There was no evidence that being birthed naturally or via C-section had any effect, nor that breast-feeding made for higher microbial diversity.
Both studies show that a healthy microbiome has a huge role to play in our overall health, even though scientists still aren’t sure how one influences the other. Fu says that patients could one day provide regular stool samples to doctors in a bid to better understand their health.
“It is becoming more and more clear that the gut microbiome serves as a sort of fingerprint that captures all kinds of signals about host health,” she said.