The Diet Of An African Tribe Might Prove That We Really Are What We Eat

We’re just beginning to understand the ecosystem in our guts. We’re teaching them to kill dangerous bacteria, and it may serve as a key to understanding body type. But changing our gut bacteria is a dangerous, complicated process involving surgery, right? Maybe not, if a new study is any indication.

NPR has a profile on researchers studying the Hadza of Tanzania, a tribe of hunter-gatherers. The Hadza essentially eat what they can find in the wild: Berries, tubers, honey and larvae straight from the comb, and so on. It’s a long, long way from the processed foods and refined sugars that factor heavily in a Western diet, and the bacteria was different as well. Species that were practically gone from our bodies were alive and thriving in the Hadza. But what’s interesting is that, depending on what they ate, their gut bacteria swung from wildly different from Westerners to very similar:

The composition of the microbiome fluctuated over time, depending on the season and what people were eating. And at one point, the composition started to look surprisingly similar to that of Westerners’ microbiome. During the dry season, Hadza eat a lot of more meat — kind of like Westerners do. And their microbiome shifted as their diet changed. Some of the bacterial species that had been prevalent disappeared to undetectable levels, similar to what’s been observed in Westerners’ guts.

That’s fascinating because it implies that changes to our gut flora are not permanent, and that as we eat different foods, they shift over time. If that’s the case not just among the Tanzanian tribesmen, but among Westerners, it would mean shifts in gut flora would simply be a matter of eating different foods. In other words, these tribesmen may have proven to us that our moms were right, and that in many ways, we really are what we eat.

(via NPR)

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