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Rainforest diet may promote healthier digestion among children

A new study suggests that the diets of people who dwell in rainforests promote a healthier gut with more diverse microbes in children. This type of diet, which is high in fiber and unprocessed foods, may have benefits for patients with conditions such as obesity and type 1 diabetes.

The study was focused on adults and children who normally lived in the city as they visited a remote Venezuelan village without electricity, soap, or other amenities for 16 days.

Among the children, their microbiomes became more diverse and accumulated more helpful bacteria. However, such changes were not found in the adults who visited the rainforest.

Study senior author Maria Gloria Dominguez-Bello is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Microbiology and Department of Anthropology at Rutgers-New Brunswick.

“The findings suggest dietary interventions to encourage a more diverse microbiome may best succeed in children, while the microbiome of adults may be more resistant to change,” said Professor Dominguez-Bello.

Professor Dominguez-Bello’s team had previously examined the connection between the microbiome and human health. The researchers discovered that the human microbiome in urbanized, modernized societies contains far less diversity compared to people living pre-modern lifestyles in the Amazon jungle of Venezuela and Peru.

The current study was developed to investigate how early impacts on the microbiome may contribute to conditions such as obesity and diabetes in developed countries. Study participants stayed in a rainforest village in southern Venezuela near the border of Brazil.

The individuals had a daily diet that consisted of cassava, fish, a little meat, and a lot of fruit. They adapted to the local time zone with eight hours of sleep, and bathed in a river without soap.

The skin, nostrils, mouths, and feces of the participants were swabbed for microbes several times throughout the study. These samples were compared with samples from local villagers, which confirmed that the urban visitors arrived with a less diverse microbiome.

Over the course of 16 days, the urban children showed significant microbiome changes. The adults, on the other hand, did not.

Professor Dominguez-Bello said that further research is needed to understand the “age window” during which the microbiome can change, and also to identify the health implications of such changes.

The study is published in the journal mSphere.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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