A new study in mice suggests that eating too much fat and sugar as a child can have a lifelong effect on your microbiome, even if you eat healthier later on.
This study by UC Riverside researchers shows a significant decrease in the amount and variety of gut bacteria in a fully grown mice that were fed an unhealthy diet as adolescents.
“We studied mice, but the effect we observed is equivalent to kids having a Western diet, high in fat and sugar and their gut microbiome still being affected up to six years after puberty,” explained UCR evolutionary physiologist Theodore Garland.
Microbiomes like fungi, parasites and viruses that live on and inside the body of a human or animal are normally found in the intestines. Most microbiomes have a positive effect, stimulating the immune system, breaking down food and helping synthesize key vitamines.
A healthy body requires balance in pathogenic and beneficial organisms. However, if this balance is disturbed either through the use of antibiotics, illness or unhealthy diet, the body becomes easily vulnerable to different kinds of diseases.
To begin with, Garland and his team divided the mice into four different groups: half fed the standard ‘healthy’ diet, half fed the less healthy ‘Western’ diet, half with access to a running wheel for exercise, and half without.
After three weeks spent on these diets, all mice returned back to a standard diet with no exercise, which is usually how mice are kept in laboratories. After 14 weeks, the team examined the diversity and abundance of bacteria in the mice.
The results showed a significant decrease in the quantity of bacteria such as Muribaculum instestinale, a type of bacteria involved in carbohydrate metabolism, in the group fed an unhealthy diet.
Analysis also showed that gut bacteria are reactive to the amount of exercise the mice got. The amount of Muribaculum bacteria increased in mice fed a standard diet with access to exercise and decreased in mice fed a high-fat diet whether they had access to exercise or not.
Researchers believe that this species of bacteria, and the family of bacteria it belongs to, might affect the amount of energy available. Researchers are continuing to discover other functions that this species of bacteria may have.
In addition, there was an increase in a highly similar bacteria species that were enhanced after five weeks of treadmill training in a study by other researchers, which suggests that exercise alone are capable of increasing its presence.
Altogether, the UCR researchers found out that early-life Western diet had longer-lasting effects on the microbiome than early-life exercise.
Garland’s team is planning to repeat this experiment and take samples at various points in time, to further identify when the changes in mouse microbiomes first appear, and the effect it has on later phases of life.
Image Source: Grit Fitness and Performance