like waiting for a delayed flight in an airport to turn your
mind to microbes. I mean, the average human ó whether we
travel on planes or not ó hosts several hundred different
species of bacterial organisms in his or her body. And while
some can be beneficial to our health, others Iíd rather not
inherit from someone.
the microorganisms that inhabit our bodies live and grow in
our intestinal tract, primarily the large bowel. Some are
necessary and helpful; they process nutrients, make vitamins,
and keep the other disease-causing bacteria at bay. These
microbes are appropriately called probiotics.
recent article on how soy foods may promote healthy gut
microbiota (a fancy term for microorganisms that inhabit our
digestive tract), nutrition researcher Elaine Krul, PhD notes
that microbes such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria that
feed off carbohydrates (sugars, starches and fiber from fruit,
vegetables, beans and grains) appear to be the most
advantageous for health. In other words, diets high in
plant-based foods tend to promote the growth of
intestines are also home to not-so-nice microorganisms which
Dr. Krul describes as "deranged gut microbiota."
Strong and growing evidence shows that abnormal combinations
of these microbes can lead to a variety of health problems.
People with heart disease, for example, have been found to
have higher concentrations of these bad bacteria in their
guts. Our intestinal flora may even have an influence on
weight. In animal studies, researchers found that obese mice
had different gut microbes than lean mice. And the bacteria in
the guts of the hefty mice actually squeezed more energy from
the diet, making them more prone to gain weight.
the question: Can the food we eat alter the mix of bacteria in
our intestines to make us leaner and healthier? Sounds
promising but itís not that easy, say scientists. Our
intestinal bacteria is also influenced by genetic differences
and the particular environments in which we live. Even among
healthy humans, the mixtures of intestinal bacteria are
immensely diverse, say experts.
where the Human Microbiome Project comes in. This
international groupís goal is to understand how our gut
bacteria influence our health and propensity for disease. Not
an easy task for all the reasons listed above.
far, we do know that certain diseases including inflammatory
bowel disease (IBD) and some types of cancer are associated
with abnormal mixtures of gut bacteria. And we know that a
high fiber diet (remember that plant-based foods are our only
source of dietary fiber) along with fermented foods like
yogurt and fermented soy milk may be, as experts state,
"the best way of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota
choose that fruit and yogurt parfait while Iím waiting for