The People's Perspective on Medicine

How Do You Feed Your Microbiota?

An intriguing study reveals that what you feed your microbiota influences the variety of microbes in your intestines. The relationships are unique to you.

Scientists know that the community of microbes that lives in your digestive tract is unique to you (your microbiota). They hypothesize that if you want to stay healthy, you have to keep the community healthy. To do that, you need to feed your microbiota right.

Do You Know What to Feed Your Microbiota?

But what, exactly, does that mean? A new study shows that the response of gut microbiota to food varies from one person to another (Cell Host & Microbe, online June 12, 2019).

The researchers had 34 healthy (but somewhat obsessive) people record absolutely everything they ate or drank for 17 days. They also collected stool samples daily during the study, which the investigators analyzed to see how the microbiota were responding. The analysis probed DNA distribution in a “fecal shotgun metagenome.” The DNA from the microbiota is properly termed the microbiome.

The investigators found that for each person there were predictable changes in the microbiota based on what food they were eating. But the relationships differed from one person to another. For example, one person eating a specific vegetable had a tremendous increase in a specific type of microbe in the stool. Another individual eating the same vegetable registered a significant drop in the same type of microbe.

A Stable Diet Doesn’t Mean a Stable Microbiome: 

Two of the individuals in the study subsisted entirely on Soylent shakes. Although they consumed a few different flavors of these shakes, the nutritional makeup was very monotonous. However, the scientists were surprised to discover that their microbiomes changed from day to day even though their diet didn’t. In fact, the analysis revealed that people who consumed a more diverse diet were more likely to have relatively stable microbiomes. 

In conclusion, what you feed your microbiota does have affect these digestive denizens, but their response is extremely individualized. Nutrition labels were not helpful in predicting how a person’s microbiota would react to the food. Presumably, foods contain many more compounds that are relevant to microbes than are reflected in nutrition labels.

Learn More:

If you would like to learn more about how to feed your microbiota, you may want to listen to our interview with Drs. Justin and Erica Sonnenburg. It is Show 1156: How the Microbiota in the Good Gut Takes Care of You. Our interview with Dr. Eran Elinav (Show 1159) delves into the study of microbiota and the variations from one person to another. He describes fascinating research on the relationship between the microbiota, antibiotics and probiotics. To learn even more about how what you feed your microbiota influences your health, listen to the interview with William Li. It is Show 1161: What Is the Evidence for Food as Medicine?

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Show 1156: How the Microbiota in the Good Gut Takes Care of You
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The trillions of tiny organisms that make up our microbiota have a profound influence on our health. Learn about their care and feeding.

Show 1156: How the Microbiota in the Good Gut Takes Care of You
  • Johnson AJ et al, "Daily sampling reveals personalized diet-microbiome associations in humans." Cell Host & Microbe, June 12, 2019. DOI:
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The microbes are clearly smarter than we are! :)

I am 87 years old, and all this new lingo flips me out. I am just getting over C-DIFF, and I am taking Probiotics and eat yogurt. I am very old, not computer savvy, and not as well-versed on current,terminology. I try to learn but today’s doctors only allow 15 minutes in the office, and that is used to talk to me, and in reality, I can out-talk the whole bunch. I do much better on the phone.

* Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^