60-Second Science

Staying Healthy Takes Guts Full of Microbes

People whose intestines have smaller and less diverse bacterial populations are more prone to obesity and gut inflammation. Sophie Bushwick reports.

Everywhere you go, the trillions of microbes in your gut go too. And that's a comforting thought. Because according to a new study, a more diverse population of intestinal bacteria is linked to better health. The work is in the journal Nature. [Emmanuelle Le Chatelier et al., Richness of human gut microbiome correlates with metabolic markers]

Danish researchers gathered gut microbes from almost 300 obese and nonobese adults. The intestines of roughly one in four participants contained fewer and less diverse bacteria than average. And members of this group were more likely to be obese and to suffer from gut inflammation.

By looking for only a few specific bacteria, researchers could predict whether a subject fell into the low-diversity group. Certain species could even indicate whether an individual was slim or overweight. And these microbial markers might also serve as signs of future health risks—because low-diversity participants who were obese were more likely to gain additional weight over time.

But a low-diversity gut won't necessarily doom your health. According to another study in the same journal, it's possible to increase microbial diversity by developing a decent diet. Remember, you’re eating for trillions.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]

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