Microbial diversity to improve your health: Insights & tips

Heather Campbell
 min read

Microbial diversity to improve your health is explained by the importance of our gut health for an improved physical and mental state.

Microbial diversity to improve your health: Insights & tipsIncreasingly powerful techniques allow us to analyze the biodiversity of our microbiota, follow its evolution over time, compare it to others, and detect its variations.

As a general rule, only a diet that provides the widest possible variety of nutrients in their natural food matrices ensures biodiversity of the colonic microbiota and ensures all its functions. Through its environment, the Western world must work hard for microbial diversity, therefore gut health.

So, read on to learn how we can eat our way to a healthy gut!

Microbial diversity of the colon: Introduction

Nutrition is key to a healthy gut.

This practice is the only one capable of maintaining the biodiversity necessary to ensure all its functions.

It preserves its stability, multi-functionality, resilience, and resistance to toxic or pathogenic aggressions and, in particular, the role of specific colonic nutrients, the prebiotics.

How to increase or restore the biodiversity of the colonic microbiota

How can we increase or restore the biodiversity of the colonic microbiota in a practical, meaningful, effective and beneficial way?

The natural way is to access reservoirs of new bacterial species, assimilate them and then feed them well to maintain them.

This is only possible from external bacterial communities.

To increase the biodiversity of our microbiota, we have no choice but to introduce new species taken from outside our belly.

Collecting bacteria in our immediate environment

One possibility would be to collect them in our immediate environment.

But, at the same time, the increase in the size of cities, the concrete and macadamization that this implies, the practices of intensive agriculture in all its dimensions, the environmental damage, etc. reduce the bacterial reservoirs to which we could have access.

Therefore they eliminate the environment where it is possible to acquire those species that can enrich the biodiversity of our microbiota and, in particular, that of our colon.

Consuming probiotics

An alternative, albeit limited in the choice of species available, is to consume probiotics in the form of food supplements or fermented foods.

The best known are:

  • Some unfiltered beers
  • Raw (soybeans, barley, etc.) or cooked (miso, tofu, tempeh)
  • Black or green tea (kombucha)
  • Fruit (kefir) or raw vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, carrots, beets, etc.)
  • Products by fermentation of milk (yogurt and kefir)

Many of these probiotic foods have a long tradition of consumption such as miso, kombucha, sauerkraut and, more generally, lacto-fermented vegetables.

Kefir can also be a valuable source of vitamin B12 as part of a vegetarian diet.

The microorganisms most commonly used for the preparation of milk derivatives (lactic acid bacteria and bifidobacteria) have been studied more specifically for their health effects in humans.

Why enrich the microbial biodiversity of human microbiota?

What allows us to ascertain that the biodiversity of the Western human microbiota is weakened and reduced and that it would be desirable to re-enrich it?

An answer to this question can be found, at least in part, in anthropological studies that show that, among certain first peoples, this biodiversity is significantly greater (more than 30% more) than in the majority of Western populations today.

This is the case for the Hadsas, African hunter-gatherers, whose diet is very rich in plant varieties (several dozen), which they find easily in the wilderness where they have lived for several millennia.

These observations have been confirmed in other individuals belonging to the first peoples of Latin America (notably the Yanomami of Venezuela) and in certain aboriginal tribes of Australia.

In all cases, lifestyle and dietary practices account for these important differences.

Of course, no one wants to return to a primitive life, but this should not prevent us from questioning our own lifestyle, mainly our food and our contacts with nature, and their impacts on the biodiversity of our microbiota.

The effect of our environment

Our microbiota depend on the environment in which we live and on our own behaviors, including our diet and our relationship to hygiene, which has sometimes become excessive, not to say hyper-hygienic.

This situation is further aggravated by the overuse of antibiotics and the unbridled use of pesticides, fungicides and other biocides.

In such conditions, how can we increase the biodiversity of our microbiota if in the world we live in is geared towards reducing it?

Where do we get all these bacterial species necessary for this biodiversity if the one in our immediate environment is decreasing?

We believe it is important to ask these questions and to invite everyone to do so in their own environment.

The best colonic diet will always lack effectiveness if the microbiota are atrophied. They will always lack essential components to establish relationship that their symbiotic participation in our multiple functionalities requires.

Coexisting in symbiosis with bacteria is important

It is imperative to understand the importance of our bacterial partners and the necessary symbiotic coexistence with them.

All of these practices and behaviors damage the integrity of our microbiota, they destroy good bacteria and deprive us of their benefits.

We have no choice but to find and maintain a closer relationship with nature.

Related post: What are good and bad gut bacteria and what is the optimal microbiome?

What are the overall qualities of our microbiota?

Beyond a description, even hyper-detailed, of its biodiversity, its status as a dynamic whole makes the richness of its functionalities as a symbiont and, therefore, its vitality.

Understanding this and accessing this dimension cannot be limited to an analytical approach that lists species or strains, nor can it result from a simple addition of their individual functionalities.

The relevance of this question is further reinforced if we remember that a constitutive property of the bacteria of a microbiota is their capacity to exchange genes (even after their demise) between identical or different species, or even between them and the eukaryotic cells of which they are symbionts.

On the scale of a microbiota, it is probably more accurate to speak of an organ, or even a single organism, whose functioning is governed by what has been identified as the microbiome, i.e. the community of its genes.

In this sense, biodiversity is one of its constitutive and vital properties. It is then the one that allows the microbiota to face all situations and efficiently accomplish the multitude of tasks imposed by its symbiont status.

Therefore, integrating all these dimensions is a more subtle, more global knowledge, the one that apprehends the globality.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts

The properties of the whole, which the bacteria form in a microbiota, are more than the sum of its parts.

They emerge from their biodiversity and all the close interactions between its members.

This is what makes our gut a super-organ resulting from symbiotic associations that integrate bacterial functionalities and our own physiological processes.

This conclusion only confirms that the microbiota has the capacity to adapt permanently to the circumstances by reconciling competition, cooperation, symbiosis, amphibiosis and ago-antagonism.

Microbial diversity of the colonic microbiota: Conclusion

A vital assumption is that the biodiversity of the microbiota is at the heart of its symbiotic activities to ensure, fully, their multi-functionality.

However diversified it may be, the colonic diet cannot increase this biodiversity, which implies an increase in the variety of bacterial species that make up our microbiota.

Biodiversity must pre-exist. Feeding can only maintain it and eventually stabilize it.

By comparing the biodiversity of microbiota of populations practicing different lifestyles, some researchers have demonstrated the reality of such differences.

These comparisons allow us to formulate the hypothesis that the Western lifestyle has a negative impact on this parameter for 4 reasons:

  • Excessive hygiene
  • The decline in food quality
  • Poorly controlled use of multiple biocidal substances
  • Antibiotic abuse

Therefore, it is urgent to rediscover all the riches of the partnership with bacteria, including at the very heart of our physiology.

The bacterial universe is not threatened because it has lived through billions of years. But it remains a fact that microbial diversity to improve your health is no longer a choice, but is essential.

Related post: How does the human digestive system work?

About Heather Campbell

As a dietitian, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More