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Surprising Reason Antibiotic-Laced Meat Could Be Making Us Fat and Sick

New research identifies a correlation between diversity of gut microflora and obesity, heart disease and cancer.

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Another article by Ehrlich’s team, in the same issue of Nature, reports putting overweight people on low-calorie diets quickly increased their gut diversity. Together, the two studies suggest eating less could help enrich your gut flora, which could help you stay lean, in turn reducing your risk of associated diseases.

Another option is to consume microbe-rich fermented foods. In a recent New York Times article about the human microbiota, Michael Pollan wrote that several researchers he’d spoken to had added fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut to their diets, as well as having cut back on processed foods. “In general they seemed to place less faith in probiotics (which few of them used) than in prebiotics—foods likely to encourage the growth of ‘good bacteria’ already present,” Pollan wrote.

South Korea, the land of kimchi, has one of the lowest obesity rates in the developed world. It may be a leap to connect that with richer gut flora, but it’s not inconsistent with the recent Nature papers.

And finally, no discussion of microbiota enrichment would be complete without mention of the fecal transplant, a medical procedure wherein fecal matter from a person with healthy microbiota is used as a suppository to seed the intestinal flora of a sick person. Fecal transplants are proving incredibly effective at treating some diseases.

In her Wired blog, Superbug, Maryn McKenna described recent research comparing fecal transplants with antibiotics in the treatment of a chronic, potentially deadly form of diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile, or C. diff. The fecal transplants proved so much more effective that the trial was ended early, for ethical reasons. Ninety-four percent of sufferers treated with fecal transplants recovered from the disease after two treatments, while just 32 percent recovered on antibiotics. The researchers determined they could not, in good conscience, continue treating C. diff patients with antibiotics.

Some researchers are now contemplating probiotics made from the patients’ own feces, collected earlier in their lives, before whatever health problem may have emerged, and stored cryogenically until needed. Transplanting one’s own feces makes sense, given how distinct each person’s microbiota is. And it’s slightly less icky, arguably. If you wish to freeze your own microbiota sample, we recommend labeling that package really well.

But a more preventative approach would be to avoid unnecessary antibiotics, and antibiotic-laced meats. 

Ari LeVaux writes a syndicated weekly food column, Flash in the Pan.
 
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