Why digestive woes trouble us more than our ancestors


Our ancestors did not appear to suffer from as many stomach ailments as we do, and this could be due to the differences in our microbiome. — AFP

Back pain is often referred to as one of the 21st century's biggest health problems, yet it's not the only ailment of our times.

Our Paleolithic ancestors and the famous hunter-gatherers didn't seem to suffer so much from bloating or stomachaches.

And this could be due to diminishing microbial biodiversity in our guts as our diets have become less fibre-rich.

Often said to be our second brain, our guts are populated by a multitude of microorganisms that make up the famous microbiota that nutritionists recommend we take such good care of.

We need to eat fruit and vegetables rich in fibre and polyphenols, avoid red meat and favour cooking with olive oil, as recommended by France's National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE).

In her bestselling book Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body's Most Underrated Organ, German author Giulia Enders explains the existence of a link between the digestive system and the brain via the vagus nerve.

In other words, you feel good in your head when you feel good in your belly.

But there's more to the idea of the intestines as a kind of emotional brain.

The times we live in also play a considerable role in their state of health. And it's not all good news.

Researchers have discovered that the intestinal microbiota of our ancestors was in much better shape than ours.

According to a study published in the Science journal, an international team of scientists based in Israel, Europe and the United States has revealed that the diets we follow in today's industrialised (and even Westernised) societies are particularly lacking in fibre.

In this case, we're talking about the fibre contained in plants.

ALSO READ: Fibre could be good for your memory too

The researchers focused in particular on cellulose, the most abundant organic compound on earth, which lines the walls of a multitude of plants, trees and vegetables.

Our intestinal microbiota is supposed to be able to break down cellulose.

Several intestinal bacteria are known to fulfil this mission, except that after analysing faecal matter from different periods in history, researchers realised that they were virtually absent from the intestines of humans in industrialised societies.

In contrast, they were abundant in the intestines of primates, Paleolithic populations and hunter-gatherers.

This finding could potentially provide some answers to the various stomachaches, difficult digestion and poor metabolic health in general among urban populations.

The scientists even highlight the fact that "the guts of urbanised people worldwide are known to contain less microbial biodiversity than those of humans living rurally".

So, is there a solution?

Yes, say the researchers, who believe that "there may be potential for intentional reintroduction or enrichment of these species in the human gut through targeted dietary approaches and specialized probiotics." – AFP Relaxnews

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Gut health , microbiome


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