The human body consists of approximately 100 trillion microbes, and in the digestive tract of the human gut alone it is estimated that there are trillions of microbes. Recent studies done by Athena Aktipis, a researcher at Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute, have shown that people’s dietary choices either help to increase the cooperation between gut microbes and their human hosts, or they could potentially lead to conflict between the two.

The microbiota consists of bacteria, and the human microbiota contains about 500 different species of microbes. There is a possibility that the composition of these microbes could affect behavior, susceptibility to allergies, and even likelihood for obesity. According to several previous studies, exposure to intestinal bacteria prevents allergies in infants and young children. This has been determined by examining the noticeable difference between the compositions of intestinal bacteria in children who have developed allergies and children who have not. The current study further looks at cooperation and competition between human cells and other cells that coexist with them. Cells are cooperative between the human cells and gut microflora when bacterial cells produce energy and vitamins. It also is beneficial when bacterial cells help to detect pathogens that are dangerous to the host. Conflict on the other hand is more likely to occur when the needs of microbes and the needs of the host are at “cross-purposes”, or they contradict one another. This internal conflict could lead to chronic afflictions such as inflammatory diseases that are caused directly by the body’s attempt to maintain dominance in this “power-struggle” within the host.

These recent studies have also shown that sugar and fat are most likely contributors to conflicts that arise between host cells and microbes. This is due to the fact that fats and simple sugars also can be used by microbes such as E. coli, which further contributes to the conflict. The results of these studies suggest that a diet consisting of low fiber and abundant sugar leads to the conditions where conflict takes place between human cells and microbes. When their interests clash or coincide, the cells in the body trigger immune responses that lead to different afflictions that include a wide range of diseases, some of them being inflammatory. Similar to fats and simple sugars, iron is also potentially dangerous in the sense that a pathogen could steal iron from host cell proteins which would ultimately compromise the health and nutrition of the host. According to the studies, it is recommended to maintain a diet that has high nutritional density but also low concentrations of pathogens in order to promote cooperation and prevent any competition or conflict that could damage your overall health and wellness.


Further reading:

Gut microbiota in 2016: A banner year for gut microbiota research

The Effect of Diet on the Human Gut Microbiome: A Metagenomic Analysis in Humanized Gnotobiotic Mice

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