A team of scientists from Florence University in Italy may be on to something gut- and allergy-wise, and gut bacteria are telling them what they need to know. Here’s why: Italian researchers have found that the Western diet, comprised of junk foods—high-sugar, low-fiber processed foods--can lead to allergies (and general unhealth) in kids. These foods unhealthily alter beneficial gut bacteria, which disrupts digestive function—leading to allergies and more, they say.
According to the researchers, gut bacteria play such a significant role in overall health that they refer to gut bacteria as a vital “organ” that “processes food, protects the body from unhealth and unhealthy inflammation levels, and maintains health and immunity.”
Wow. That’s amazing!
When the healthy gut bacteria are interrupted by unhealthy foods characteristic of the Western diet, including processed sugars and bad fats, then the healthy gut bacteria are replaced with unhealthy gut bacteria. In fact, the researchers say that the bacterial compositions found in junk food-eating children can cause unhealthy weight, allergies, and other undesired immune system responses.
The study compared children from a small village in Burkina Faso, Africa, who eat primitive diets to children in industrialized countries who regularly consume processed or junk foods. The findings were that those who ate processed foods were more prone to allergies.
Interestingly, the researchers noted that only those children in industrialized societies whose diets were exclusively mothers' breast milk had a healthy gut bacteria composition that resembled the healthy gut bacteria composition of the African children. The rest of the studied children had entirely different bacterial makeup in their systems, and it’s a difference that can determine overall health.
“The gastrointestinal microflora plays a crucial role in health or unhealth,” say the researchers. Unfortunately, those eating the Western diet didn’t fare as well as those in Africa who ate a more primitive diet.
So just what constituted the African children’s diet that led to healthy gut bacteria? The African children’s diet was rich in fiber (including vegetables, nuts and legumes) as well as fatty acids, which supported healthy levels of inflammation—according to the scientists. By contrast, the other children ate higher quantities of processed meat, fat and sugar—with negative results.
In short, pediatrician Dr. Paolo Lionetti of Florence University says that children in industrialized countries who eat low-fiber, high-sugar “Western” diets may reduce microbial richness and that this can contribute to a rise in allergies.
The research team’s findings were published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.