When children become sick, when rates of disease increase in adults, both apparently without an obvious cause, there is an unfortunate tendency for some to seek to profit at the expense of the suffering by offering up phony theories and bizarre hypotheses to "explain" these impacts. Witness the recent hysteria over autism and preservatives in various vaccines. Now it looks like diet may explain the growth of various inflammatory diseases.
Prior posts have noted the importance of gut bacteria to human health; ironically, given some people's obsession with "cleanliness", for each human cell in the body there are 10 bacteria living inside us, bacteria that are critically important to our overall health. Yet, despite the amazing advances of modern medicine and public health, inflammatory diseases have been rising for decades. Puzzlingly, this increase has occurred largely in developed countries, not in poorer ones (rural poverty has its own set of difficulties, but inflammatory bowl disease is not one of them). Why? A recent study suggests that diet may be key factor.
Researchers compared the diets and gut bacteria of 14 healthy children from a village in Burkina Faso with 15 children from Florence, Italy. Admittedly these are small samples from which to draw over-arching conclusions. The differences were minimal in children of young age, with ***-fed toddlers in both countries harboring similar populations of gut bacteria. But, then the population changes. In Africa, children start to eat a diet that is rich in fiber in the form of millet, legumes, and vegetables. The Italian children ate a typically "Western" diet with lots of sugar, fat, and meat. A major impact was the drop in the diversity of gut bacteria in the Italian kids.
What was also striking, according to the researchers, was the trend in bacteria in the two groups. Though healthy, the Italian children harbored three times as many bacterial species associated with causing diarrhea, leading the researchers to speculate that reduced diversity was allowing unhealthy bacteria to maintain a presence. The Italian children also had bacterial profiles which indicated a greater risk of obesity. In contrast, the African children had profiles associated with leanness, and a higher proportion of bacteria known to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA's). SCFA's are associated with lower levels of allergies and inflammation. To ascertain if the SCFA's were having an impact, they researchers measured the levels in the children. Those from Burkina Faso had twice the concentration of the Italians. This leads to a tentative conclusion that a healthy diet not only causes disease-causing bacteria to be excluded, but to encourage bacteria that emit compounds that help to suppress disease.
Where does this all lead? As noted repeatedly in prior posts, in the field of toxic torts causation is the key. So, when lawsuits fly claiming that x or y causes some inflammatory effect, the answer may be diet and gut bacteria profile.
The study can be found at http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/07/14/1005963107.abstract.