Westerners' gut microbes make them sick

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Researchers compared the intestinal microbes of healthy children in Burkina Faso with those of healthy Italian children and found that the African kids had significantly more bacteria associated with lean people and less bacteria associated with obese people.

Additionally, the researchers detected bacterial strains of Prevotella, Xylanibacter, and Treponema only in the children from Burkina Faso. These bacteria are excellent at breaking down fibrous foods and producing short-chain fatty acids that provide added energy. Studies have also shown that those same fatty acids help protect the intestines from inflammation, which could explain why inflammatory bowel disease is almost unheard of in African communities that eat high-fiber diets, Lionetti says.

The increased diversity of microbes in the gut also makes the body more resistant to intestinal pathogens while tempering the immune system's response to harmless molecules, leading to fewer allergies, Lionetti says. The group reports its findings online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

ScienceNOW: Western Diet Tied to Intestinal Disease and Allergies

Photo: Grubs for Sale by Adam Jones, Ph.D. Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.

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