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Researchers have recently discovered that gut microbiota diversity can decrease later in life if children are fed a western standard American diet (SAD), affecting the child long into adult life. A paper published in the Journal of Experimental Biology in February 2021 exposes the dangers of feeding children highly processed fat and sugar-rich foods. Microbiome diversity matters because the microbes in the gut stimulate enzyme reactions, help break down food, and process vitamins. A loss of diversity is typical in people suffering from obesity and signifies a metabolic imbalance. Evolutionary biologist Dr. Garland and his research team took four groups of mice and fed half the SAD, and the other half a healthy diet. They gave half of each group access to a running wheel for exercise, while the remaining quarter had no access to exercise. Laboratory mice are normally fed standard feed and have no access to exercise. The study ran for three consecutive weeks; after that, the mice were returned to their normal living conditions. At fourteen weeks, the mice were once again evaluated in order to explore their microbiome.
Garland and his team found that gut bacteria are sensitive to exercise. Interestingly, the group of mice fed the SAD but who had access to a running wheel had higher levels of the good bacteria Muribaculum. The mice eating the healthy diet saw a similarly high proliferation of Muribaculum. An earlier study found similar results with exercise alone, suggesting that gut diversity can be improved with exercise alone. Conversely, they found that early-life SAD impacted the microbiome later on in life more than early-life exercise. Garland concluded that “You are not only what you eat, but what you ate as a child!" He now wants to delve deeper into the exact timing of dietary influence, precisely when it impacts the microbiome, and for how long.
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