You’ve probably heard of the importance of “gut health” and having a diverse set of bacteria hanging out in your digestive tract. But no research has more widely studied the concept than The American Gut Project, an initiative that allows regular citizens from around 45 countries to participate in gut health sampling. The findings were published in mSystems, a journal published by the American Society for Microbiology in 2018.
What makes this research different?
Study findings explained the groundbreaking innovation in the setup of this research. “It represents a unique citizen science data set and resource, providing a rich characterization of microbiome and metabolome diversity at the population level.” This means gathering research from across the globe gives scientists a more comprehensive picture of how gut health works.
Since 2012, when the project began, over 15,000 samples have been collected from 11,000 people, each of whom paid $99 to participate in a voluntary swab submission and survey. They answered questions about their health, lifestyle, diet, and disease history.
The findings revealed these three factors influence your gut health: your diet, your antibiotic use, and your mental health status. The results can help us better understand how our lifestyle and medical situations contribute to our gut health.
What diet has to do with it
While we’ve all heard how important it is to eat our vegetables, this study not only shows the importance of eating plants, but just how many different kinds are needed for optimal gut health. Basically, it is not just about quantity, but diversity, so if you are eating the same plants all the time it may be your moment to shake things up. They found that those who ate 30 or more different types of plants per week had significantly more diverse microbiomes than others. To hit that enviable 30 per week, explore eating more seasonally, incorporating micro-greens, eating Empower Bars (which comes with 6-7 different kinds) or branching out to sea vegetables or other lesser-known options.
Antibiotics’ role in your gut
Those who had taken antibiotics in the past month from the time their sample was studied had a much less diverse microbiome than those who hadn’t taken any in a year. While some antibiotics are very necessary for medical reasons, work with your doctor to understand if you are taking them too often, or to further grasp how they may impact your gut health.
Researchers also found that people who ate more plant types had fewer antibiotic resistance genes as well. While they didn’t get too in-depth in the reasoning, the study suggests those who don’t eat many plants may be eating more meat, which can sometimes come from antibiotic-treated animals. This could lead meat-eaters to consider antibiotic-free meat options when they are shopping to keep their total antibiotic ingestion in check.
The mind-gut connection: Mental health disorders
If you are struggling with a mental health disorder, or have in the past, it’s possible that it has impacted your gut health, the research shows. People with depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, or bipolar disorder had more similar gut health profiles to others with mental health conditions than they did to those without them in their same demographic. To find this out, scientists compared people with the conditions to those in similar areas, of similar ages, and to those with a similar body mass index. For example, a 24-year-old male in Australia with a normal BMI and depression had more similarities to others with mental health conditions than to other 24-year old males in Australia with a normal BMI without depression.
To learn more about how health and lifestyle conditions can impact gut health, check out this interview with a health coach who healed her leaky gut with some key changes.