Is The Secret To A Healthier Microbiome Hidden In The Hadza Diet?


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Even though they represent different races, live in very different parts of the world with different climates and plants, the few remaining hunter gatherer tribes in the world – including the Hazdas in Tanzania, the Yanomamis in Venezuela and the Asmat people in Irian Jaya – they have one important thing in common: their gut microbiomes are the most diverse and abundant ecosystems of any humans in the world, and they have this uniquely diverse microbiome from infancy on.

In contrast to these last descendants of our ancestors, we Westerners have a 40% reduction in the diversity of our gut microbiome, presumably a consequence of several changes associated with our modern lifestyles: excessive hygiene, excessive use of antibiotics and dramatic dietary changes, in particular the change from a largely plant based diet with high fiber content to our high sugar, high fat and high animal product diet. We only have to look at the average fiber consumption of about 15g per day and compare it with the 100 g of fiber the hunter gatherers consume! There is reason to worry that these changes in our gut microbiome play an important role in the rise of many chronic Western diseases, including obesity, type II diabetes, autoimmune diseases, allergies and even different types of cancer.

The recent study by Justin Sonnenburg’s team in Stanford published in Science now shows that the Hazda’s microbiome significantly changes depending on the season: While it looks very similar to our own microbiome during the dry season, when the Hazda’s consume primarily animal based foods, their their gut microbial profile returns to their original diversity when the rainy season returns, and they switch to a predominantly plant based dietary regimen.

Here is the most important question: is our own loss of diversity reversible (with the benefit on our health) if we reverse to a plant based diet, or is the loss of diversity irreversible? The answer to this question will have fundamental consequences for our food choices and for our health.

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Photo credit: Matthieu Paley/National Geographic