The Mediterranean Diet Can Help Keep Your Gut Happy
By Heather Cruickshank
Trillions of bacteria and other microbes live in the human digestive system. Together, they form a community that's known as the gut microbiota.
Many bacteria in the microbiota play important roles in human health, helping to metabolize food, strengthen intestinal integrity and protect against disease.
To help friendly bacteria in the gut thrive, new research presented at UEG Week 2019 suggests it may help to eat a Mediterranean-style diet that's rich in plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and nuts, as well as fish.
When researchers from the University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands assessed the eating habits and gut bacteria of more than 1,400 participants, they found that a Mediterranean-style diet was linked to healthier gut microbiota. It was also associated with lower levels of inflammatory markers in stool.
This points to the role that a plant-rich diet might play in helping to protect against intestinal diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
"Connecting the diet to the gut microbiome gives us more insight into the relation between diet and intestinal disease," Laura Bolte, lead investigator of the study and a dietitian who's currently pursuing an MD and Ph.D. in the field of nutrition, said in a statement.
"The results indicate that diet is likely to become a significant and serious line of treatment or disease management for diseases of the gut — by modulating the gut microbiome," she added.
Mediterranean Diet Might Reduce Inflammation
Four groups of participants took part in Bolte's study, including members of the general population and patients with Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis (UC) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Crohn's disease and UC are forms of IBD that involve chronic inflammation in the intestines. IBS is another intestinal disease in which inflammation may play a role.
To identify potential links between diet, gut microbiota and intestinal inflammation, the researchers administered a food frequency questionnaire and collected a stool sample from each participant.
They found multiple links between participants' eating habits, gut microbiota and markers of intestinal inflammation.
A Mediterranean-style diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, nuts and fish was linked to greater abundance of friendly bacteria that help synthesize essential nutrients, produce fuel for cells in the colon, and reduce inflammation. This plant-rich eating pattern was also linked to lower levels of inflammatory markers in the stool.
In comparison, a diet rich in meat, refined sugar, or fast foods was linked to lower levels of friendly gut bacteria and higher levels of inflammatory markers.
"It's not surprising that a diet pattern which has been connected to a lower risk of heart disease, cancer and increased longevity is also associated with beneficial digestive effects," Julie Stefanski, MEd, RDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline.
"This study reinforces a growing body of data demonstrating that having a healthy intestine and pinpointing the right mix of bacteria needed for health may be key to tackling many chronic diseases," she added.
More Research Is Needed
This study adds to a large body of research that suggests Mediterranean-style diets and other plant-rich eating patterns have benefits for human health.
"We've known for some time that when you look at it at a country level, populations that take in less red meat and eat a more plant-based diet have lower incidence of inflammatory bowel disease, including Crohn's and colitis," Dr. Arun Swaminath, director of the inflammatory bowel disease program at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told Healthline.
"I think the interesting addition here is that we didn't know why that was true or really understand what the mechanism of that was," he continued, "and the microbiome seems to be at least one of the ways that this association exists."
To learn more about the potential relationship between diet, gut microbiota and intestinal health, more research is needed. In particular, clinical trials are needed to test the links that identified in this cross-sectional study.
"Food frequency questionnaires can have hundreds of variables and microbiota data can have the same," Swaminath explained, "and it's hard to tell whether there's really a meaningful signal or if it's just part of the statistical noise."
"So I think it'll be interesting when we're able to see more of the details of their data and methodology and then reproduce some of this in clinical trials," he continued, "especially if people are put on these diets and we can see how the microbiota change moving forward in time."
To follow up on their study, researchers at the University Medical Center Groningen are planning to conduct a trial to test the effects of a Mediterranean-style plant-rich eating pattern in people with Crohn's disease.
Similar research is also underway in the U.S., where investigators are comparing the effects of a Mediterranean-style diet and an eating pattern known as the Specific Carbohydrate Diet in adults with Crohn's disease.
Expert Guidance May Help
While research on gut microbiota and diet continues, Swaminath and Stefanski encourage patients with IBD to work with qualified health professionals to develop diet plans that works for them.
Some people with Crohn's disease or UC develop strictures or narrowed segments in their intestines, which can make it difficult to pass bulky stools. Such patients might benefit from a low-fiber diet.
But in patients without intestinal strictures, eating more fiber may promote better gut health. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help them learn which types of food might be best for them.
"Certain [foods] and ways of preparing them are better tolerated than others," Stefanski said.
"Working with a [registered dietitian nutritionist] to personalize specific food choices is vital when trying to achieve more plant-based diets," she added.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Healthline.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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