30 Apr

Medical News Today: Beer, chocolate intake among factors that influence the gut microbiome

By analyzing more than 1,000 human stool samples, researchers from Belgium have uncovered a number of diet and lifestyle factors that influence the composition of gut microbiota, with intake of beer and chocolate among those identified.
[A man drinking beer]
Beer intake was identified as a key factor that influences gut microbiota composition.

Study leader Prof. Jeroen Raes, of the University of Leuven (KU Leuven) in Belgium, and his team say their findings may better inform future studies investigating how the gut microbiome – the population of microbes that live in the intestine – affects human disease.

The results – recently published in the journal Science – come from the Flemish Gut Flora Project, which the team says is one of the largest population-wide studies to assess the variation of gut microbiota among healthy individuals.

The gut microbiome consists of tens of trillions of microorganisms, including at least 1,000 bacterial species, and can weigh up to 2 kg.

While around one third of gut microbiota is common to the majority of people, around two thirds are specific to each individual. As such, researchers are interested in how the gut microbiome may impact human health.

69 factors identified that affect the gut microbiome

For their study, Prof. Raes and colleagues analyzed the stool samples of more than 1,000 healthy individuals from Belgium who were part of the Flemish Gut Flora Project.

Through their analysis, the team identified 69 factors that are linked to the diversity or composition of gut microbiota, many of which are associated with transit time – how long it takes for food to move from the mouth to the end of the intestine – diet, medication use, gender, age, and overall health.

The researchers then combined their results with those of other analyses across the globe, from which they identified 14 bacterial species that make up the microbiota present in the intestine of each and every person.

Prof. Raes notes that most studies have focused on how the diversity of gut microbiota influences the development of specific diseases.

“However, analyzing the ‘average’ gut flora is essential for developing gut bacteria-based diagnostics and drugs,” he says. “You need to understand what’s normal before you can understand and treat disease.”

Transit time, beer and dark chocolate heavily influence gut microbiota

Transit time was found to be the heaviest influence on gut microbiota composition, according to the researchers, and diet – particularly fiber intake – was also found to play a key role.

Interestingly, the team found that intake of dark chocolate was found to drive the presence of a specific bacterial population, and beer intake was also a key influence on the composition of gut microbiota.

Supporting previous studies, the researchers also found a link between medication use and gut microbiota composition; use of laxatives, antibiotics, hay fever medication, and hormones used for birth control or menopause symptoms were found to affect gut microbiota diversity.

Contrary to previous research, the team also found that delivery method at birth or whether an individual was breast-fed as a baby did not influence gut microbiota composition in adulthood.

On assessing data from the Dutch LifeLines Study, the researchers found they were able to replicate their findings; around 90 percent of the factors they identified that influence gut microbiota were present in the Dutch cohort.

“Such replication adds a tremendous amount of robustness to the results,” notes Prof. Raes.

Additionally, from their analysis of the Dutch cohort, the researchers found buttermilk was a key influencer for gut microbiota composition.

The findings from this ongoing project have important implications for future research into human disease, according to the team.

“These results are essential for disease studies. Parkinson’s disease, for example, is typically associated with a longer intestinal transit time, which in turn impacts microbiota composition.

So to study the microbiota in Parkinson’s disease, you need to take that into account. These and many other observations can help scientists in their research into future therapies.”

Prof. Jeroen Raes

While the researchers say their findings have shed important light on what factors might influence gut microbiota composition, they note that there is much more to learn; their results only explain around 7 percent of gut microbiota variation.

The researchers estimate that around 40,000 human stool samples will need to be collected before an entire picture of gut microbiota composition can be identified, and this is something they hope to achieve with the Flemish Gut Flora Project.

Learn more about how the gut microbiome influences health.

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Source: medicalnewstoday

30 Apr

Medical News Today: Mediterranean diet linked to a healthier heart

Choosing to eat a Mediterranean diet is better for people with heart disease than avoiding the unhealthy contents of a so-called Western diet, says research published in the European Heart Journal.
The Mediterranean diet includes plenty of vegetables and fruit.

A Mediterranean diet includes a high proportion of fruit, vegetables, fish, and unrefined foods. A Western diet contains refined grains, sweets, desserts, sugared drinks, and deep-fried food.

The new research shows that the Mediterranean diet can decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who already have heart disease.

At the same time, it suggests that if people avoid the unhealthy aspects of a Western diet, they also avoid worsening their risk of cardiac problems.

Guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) recommend frequent consumption of fruit, vegetables, fish, and other whole foods, say the authors of the current report.

Researchers – led by Prof. Ralph Stewart from Auckland City Hospital at the University of Auckland in New Zealand – looked at data for 15,482 people with stable coronary artery disease in 39 countries worldwide.

Fewer heart attacks among those who eat Mediterranean foods

Participants were aged 67 years on average, and the team followed them up for nearly 4 years.

Results show that for every 100 people eating the highest proportion of healthy Mediterranean foods, there were three fewer heart attacks, strokes, or deaths than among the 100 people with the lowest intake of healthy foods.

The subjects were part of a trial called STABILITY, which aimed to evaluate the effectiveness of a drug called darapladib in reducing heart attacks, strokes, and death.

Participants completed a questionnaire, in which they provided information about their diet. Details included how many times a week they ate whole grains or refined grains, meat, fish, dairy foods, fruit, desserts, sweets, sugary drinks, deep-fried foods, vegetables – except for potatoes – and how frequently they drank alcohol.

Based on this information, each person received a “Mediterranean diet score” (MDS). The greater the proportion of healthy foods they ate, the higher was the score they received. The total range of scores was from 0-24.

A “Western diet score” (WDS) gave points according to how much unhealthy food each person ate.

At the end of the 3.7-year study period, 1,588 people, or 10 percent of all participants, had experienced a major adverse cardiovascular event (MACE), whether a heart attack, stroke, or death.

The group that ate the highest proportion of healthy foods scored over 15 MDS points. Of these, 2,885, or 7.3 percent, experienced a MACE.

As the MDS score fell, the likelihood of a person experiencing a MACE went up.

An MDS score of 13-14 points was given to 2,855 people, and 10.5 percent of these had a MACE. Among the 8,579 people with an MDS score of 12 or lower, 10.8 percent had a MACE.

The pattern was consistent regardless of location and income levels.

After adjustments for other factors, with each unit increase in the MDS an individual with existing heart disease had a 7 percent lower risk of heart attack, stroke, or death from cardiovascular or other causes.

Meanwhile, the authors were surprised to note that eating more “Western” foods, considered to be less healthy, did not appear to increase the risk.

“The research suggests we should place more emphasis on encouraging people with heart disease to eat more healthy foods, and perhaps focus less on avoiding unhealthy foods.”

Prof. Ralph Stewart

He notes that while fruit and vegetables appear to reduce the risk of a heart attack or a stroke, small amounts of refined carbohydrates, sugar, deep fried food, and desserts do not appear to cause additional harm.

Prof. Stewart notes that the benefit of foods such as fruits and vegetables in protecting against heart disease is “not explained by traditional risk factors such as good and bad cholesterol or blood pressure.”

Study highlights dietary trends, despite limitations

Limitations of the current study include the fact that the assessments were “relatively crude,” so the authors say that there may be some harm in eating unhealthy foods.

Nor was there any assessment of total calorie intake, or of good and bad fats, although these factors may have an impact on obesity-related health problems.

In addition, the survey deliberately left it to the individual to decide what constitutes a “serving,” in order to make the process easy for respondents.

Participants were able to interpret a serving as a piece of fruit, or a portion of meat, grains or vegetables that would be appropriate for one person.

According to Prof. Stewart, this showed that scientists can identify a dietary pattern associated with a lower risk of recurrent heart attacks or strokes by using a few simple questions.

Prof. Stewart advises people to prioritize fruit and vegetables, because they may lower the risk of cardiovascular problems.

Learn about how a Mediterranean diet may protect against brain aging.

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Source: medicalnewstoday