“But I would say diet is the number one factor for adults,” said Dr. Emeran Mayer, professor at the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine.
Mayer, who was not involved in the study, is the author of the upcoming book “The Gut-Immune Connection”.
He said he generally recommends a predominantly plant-based diet, choosing particular foods based on individual needs. Diet is the way to go, rather than taking probiotic supplements, said Mayer.
“There’s no way around biology. You can’t eat a bad diet and then take a probiotic,” he said. “You need to make a fundamental change in your diet and your lifestyle in general.”
Unfortunately, Mayer added, processed foods and other unhealthy choices are often cheaper, making it difficult for low-income people to eat healthy.
“It’s a real problem,” he said.
New findings – recently published online in the journal Intestine – are based on more than 1,400 Dutch adults who answered questions about their eating habits and donated stool samples for analysis for gut microbes. Some were generally healthy, while others had digestive problems, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
Overall, the study found consistent links between fish and plant food and anti-inflammatory gut microbes, including in people with digestive disorders.
Dr. Andrew Chan is a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School.
Chan said it’s increasingly clear that the gut microbiome is an important link between diet and disease risk.
But it’s likely the inflammation is only part of the story, according to Chan.
Researchers are just beginning to understand the many roles of the gut microbiome, which some see as an organ on its own, he noted. Much more work is needed to characterize how the microbiome might influence human health and define what a “healthy” microbiome is, Chan added.
So far, Weersma said these findings support current recommendations to eat more “whole” plant foods and less processed foods.
Chan agreed, but added that ultimately research into the gut microbiome could steer experts away from universal advice. It becomes possible to individualize diets based on how a person and their gut microbiome respond to food, he said.