- The American Gut Project, initiated in 2012 by scientists from the University of California, San Diego’s School of Medicine, seeks to better understand human microbiomes – the bacterial types and quantities living in our guts.
- Among its initial findings, the project revealed that those eating over 30 types of plant-based foods weekly have more varied microbiomes and fewer antibiotic-resistant genes in their gut, compared to those who consume fewer plants.
- Diet, antibiotic usage, and even mental health conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder all appear to influence our gut microbiomes.
- The long-term goal of the project is to transition from creating microbiome maps to developing a ‘microbiome GPS’. This tool would guide individuals on how to maintain or improve their gut health, perhaps through changes in diet, lifestyle, or medication.
Focussing on robust gut health? Recent research indicates that to maintain a healthy gut, increase the intake of fruits and vegetables, avoid antibiotics, and manage mental health effectively.
Unpacking The American Gut Project
The American Gut, a component of an extensive, ongoing global endeavor, has examined the bacterial composition of over 11,300 peoples’ digestive systems.
The project, initiated in 2012 by a trio of scientists from the University of California, San Diego’s School of Medicine, aims to provide fresh insights into human microbiomes. This term refers to the different bacterial types and quantities living in our guts, and how these microorganisms respond to changes in diet, lifestyle, and disease.
Contributing to Science
“It’s truly remarkable how over 10,000 individuals, keen to contribute to science regardless of whether they work in a laboratory or possess a Ph.D., have sent their fecal matter to our lab. This allows us to decipher what influences someone’s microbiome,” states project researcher Rob Knight, the head of UC San Diego’s Center for Microbiome Innovation.
By midway through 2017, the researchers had processed data obtained from countless samples given anonymously by individuals hailing from the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and an additional 42 countries or regions. These volunteers purchased a collection kit for $99, and provided stool, oral, or skin swab samples. Participants also filled out a survey querying their health, lifestyle, and diet.
Initial Observations From The American Gut Project
The collected data, which is now open to the public, permits external research teams to identify new connections between external elements such as diet and physical activity, and the bacterial composition of the human gut.
Several interesting observations have already emerged. For instance, individuals consuming over 30 types of plant-based foods weekly have more varied microbiomes than those consuming fewer than 10 types of plants. Those indulging in more than 30 plants weekly also possess fewer antibiotic-resistant genes in their gut microbiomes compared to those who consumed fewer plants. The reasoning behind this is unclear.
The Influence of Diet and Antibiotics on Gut Health
Researchers hypothesize that individuals who consume fewer fruits and vegetables potentially eat more meat from animals treated with antibiotics or processed foods. These processed foods possibly contain antibiotics as a preservative, fostering the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the digestive tract.
Consuming antibiotics also modifies the bacterial types found in the gut. Those who reported consuming these drugs in the preceding month exhibited less gut bacterial diversity compared to individuals who didn’t.
Mental Health and Gut Health- A Symbiotic Relationship?
A fascinating correlation between mental health and gut health was also unveiled. The human gut’s microbiome exhibited more similarity in individuals reporting depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), than those without these conditions.
Paving the Way for the Future
The human microbiome intricacies are arms-length away from being fully understood, however, each additional sample brings us closer towards grasping how our gut is associated with various states of health and disease,” Knight stated.
“The American Gut Project is constantly evolving, with samples streaming in from across the globe. The analysis outlined in this paper is a mere snapshot. We hope to transition from creating microbiome maps to installing a microbiome GPS. This tool would not only indicate your current position on the microbiome map but also where you aspire to be. Additionally, it would guide you on how to get there, whether through changes in diet, lifestyle, or medication,” added Knight.
For More Information
Visit Harvard Medical School’s page for additional details on the connection between gut bacteria and human health.