All Guts Are Not The Same

Gut Evolution

Those in non industrialized parts of the world, like rural Africa, have healthier guts, microbiotas, and immune systems than people in the Western world. This is because they use less antibiotics, they have more exposure to environmental bacteria (having a less hygienic environment), the consumption of virtually no processed food, and vastly different lifestyles.

Why does this matter?

It matters because we see much less inflammatory and immune related illness, like celiac disease, obesity, IBS, depression, and heart disease, in these populations, which might tell us how we can reduce the incidence of these conditions in our world.

Now we must not just copy people from Africa, we cannot micromanage an ecosystem, we cannot force our microbiota to match that of a hunter gatherer, in fact we could end up hurting ourselves doing so! But what we can do is try to improve the health of our environment and by doing so create an environment that supports healthy bacteria.

Borrowing the diets of other cultures

It is well know that some Africans eat more carbs, especially grains, does that mean we should also do this? This is a question often asked by people because of the research coming out of Africa. Let's look at this from an environmental perspective: Different environments require different amounts of rain. If our ecosystem is not African, would it make sense for us to suddenly expose our ecosystem to the rainfall level of Africa?

Our ecosystem is very different from the African ecosystem, in fact, eating like an African hunter gatherer could cause us more harm than good, just like sudden downpours can cause flash flooding and mudslides in arid climates.


The Study

In 2010, a study was performed comparing a group of urban Italians to a group of rural Africans from Burkina Faso. This study received quite a bit of attention because the Africans had significantly different microbiotas from the Italians. The Africans had better overall bacterial diversity and had more of the Bacteroidetes bacteria group and less Firmicutes bacteria. Correspondingly , the Africans had healthier body weights than the Italians. The Africans also ate lots of carbohydrates and grains.

This caused many healthcare professionals to recommend that we Westerners consume more carbs and grains in order to make our guts more like the guts of the Africans. In other words, the observation that Africans had healthier weights, better bacterial diversity, and less Firmicutes, plus the observation that they consumed high amounts of grains and carbs, led many to conclude (mistakenly) that everyone should now eat more grains and carbs to improve diversity, decrease Firmicutes, and be skinny.

To frase it better, (skinn