In a new study, researchers found that a high dietary intake of animal products, processed foods, alcohol and sugar is linked to a gut microbiome that encourages inflammation.
But a diet rich in plant-based foods is linked to gut microbes that have the opposite effect.
The findings suggest that dietary modifications may help to ease inflammation in the body.
The variety and volume of bacteria in the gut, known as the microbiome, directly affects the balance of pro- and anti-inflammatory responses in the gut.
This ecosystem also affects systemic immunity and an imbalance is implicated in a growing number of inflammatory conditions, ranging from diabetes to arthritis, and heart disease.
In the study, the team looked at the interplay between usual diet, gut microbes, and intestinal inflammation in 1425 people with either inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis); irritable bowel syndrome; or a normal gut.
They found processed foods and animal-derived foods were consistently linked to a higher relative volume of ‘opportunistic’ bacterial species involved pro-inflammatory activity.
Plant foods and fish, on the other hand, were associated with ‘friendly’ bacterial species involved in anti-inflammatory activity.
Eating nuts, oily fish, fruit, vegetables and cereals was linked to a higher abundance of bacteria, which produce short chain fatty acids: these acids help control inflammation and protect the integrity of the cells lining the gut.
Red wine was similarly linked to a higher abundance of several bacteria producing short chain fatty acids. But total alcohol intake, spirits, and sugar were associated with friendly microbial species and functions.
Coffee intake was also linked to a higher relative abundance of pro-inflammatory bacteria, while fermented dairy products, such as buttermilk and yoghurt were strongly linked to anti-inflammatory bacteria.
Food clusters of breads; legumes, such as lentils, peas, and chickpeas; fish; and nuts were consistently linked to a lower relative abundance of ‘opportunistic’ bacteria and pro-inflammatory activity.
But a fast food cluster of meats, french fries, mayonnaise and soft drinks was linked to a cluster of ‘unfriendly’ bacteria across all study participants.
In the absence of fibre, these bacteria turn to the mucus layer of the gut to feed off, leading to an erosion of the integrity of the gut.
These patterns were found across all groups of study participants, suggesting overlaps in diet and gut microbiome signaling between healthy people and those with inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
The team says long-term diets enriched in legumes, vegetables, fruits and nuts; a higher intake of plant over animal foods with a preference for low-fat fermented dairy and fish; while avoiding strong alcoholic drinks, processed high-fat meat and soft drinks, have a potential to prevent intestinal inflammatory processes via the gut microbiome.
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The study is published in Gut.
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