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What Is Your Gut Telling You?

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Care and Feeding of Your Microbiome

As the roster of diseases linked to intestinal microbes continues to grow, the burning question is this: Can you change your gut bacteria and cure or get rid of your risk for a particular disease?

“If you make a long-term dietary change -- for example from a high-fat, high-sugar diet to a leaner, more high-fiber diet -- it’s possible that you could reshape your microbiome, giving it a healthier profile,” Petrosino says. This could improve immune function, lower inflammation, and lead to overall better health. Not just a healthy diet, he says, but a more varied diet may be key to fostering a diverse and healthy microbiome. Exercise might diversify gut bacteria, too, says a recent study that showed athletes had more varied intestinal microbes than their non-athlete peers.

Understanding the microbiome won’t just highlight the importance of diet and exercise. It could lead to advances in medical treatments, too. For example, doctors now do fecal transplants on people with difficult-to-treat c. difficilebacterial infections. The doctor puts a solution of healthy feces into the sick person’s colon through their rectum. The feces have healthy gut bacteria that can fight the infection. Ongoing research is looking at using this procedure in other conditions. 

Some scientists believe analysis of your microbiome will one day be as common as routine blood tests. Doctors could discuss the results with you and the long-term management of your gut bacteria. Current research could one day lead to customized probiotics that would offset whatever disease-promoting microbiome you might harbor.

“You could envision a therapy, where people are actually taking specific microbiota, that actually helps them prevent obesity or diabetes,” Snyder says.

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