Travel and Your Biome
Your digestive tract is a teaming population with hundreds of different types of micro-organisms. These make up your ‘biome.’ If you are in good health, chances are that these microbes are contributing to your health. They make a variety of healthy compounds, including vitamins. For instance, the recommended amount of biotin for the average adult is 30mcg per day. It is not likely that you will meet this amount through diet alone, even from the healthiest of diets. For example, tomatoes are considered an excellent source of biotin with 7.2 mcg per cup. Thankfully, these helpful gut bacteria make generous amounts for you. These micro-organisms can be helpful or harmful. If you are not in perfect health, chances are that you may have some unwelcome visitors in your biome. A well-known example of these is the yeast candida albicans, and it may be accompanied by other harmful moulds.
The detailed composition of the ‘normal’ biome in any country, culture or region is unique to that country, culture or region. This means that when you move from one country to another, your biome may change, and this can have important consequences for your health.
It is known that immigrants to the US are more susceptible to developing health problems such as diabetes, obesity and metabolic diseases than either people from the same countries who haven’t migrated or native-born US citizens. The longer immigrants spend at their US location the less diverse their bacteria became, and this was linked to rising obesity.
The gut biome helps our bodies fight and prevent disease. Many factors can damage it including the use of antibiotics, stress, altered diet, and different microorganisms in the local water supply to name just a few. The changes start as soon as you arrive at your destination and can continue for decades.
The gut biome of people living on the typical ‘Western diet’ generally contain lots of Bacteroides species. These thrive and work best in the guts of people who eat, and so thrive on, a more ‘Eastern’ and commonly vegetarian diet, and have Prevotella species as a dominant part of their biome. The Prevotella species help them to digest vegetable and grain fibre. Studies have shown that the Prevotella species and the associated enzymes for digesting important plant fibres are lost or significantly reduced when there is less plant fibre in the diet like as is common in the Western diet.
A common question is the typical “chicken or the egg” scenario. Which comes first, the change in diet and local environment, or the change in diet which is almost inevitable as one relocates to a different culture. However, an interesting study with ‘normal’ weight mice showed that they gained weight when they were given gut bacteria from obese humans.
Remember too, the damage that can occur to your gut biome with antibiotics and a variety of other medical drugs. If these drugs are necessary, and this is not always the case, they are often over-prescribed. You can help protect your healthy biome by taking supplements of healthy ‘probiotics.’ Because there are so many of them, I commonly suggest that people take, sequentially, a variety of such supplements, to provide your diet with a varied biome.