Eating too much fat and sugar as a child can change your microbiome throughout your life, even if you later learn to eat healthier, a new study on mice suggests.
The study by researchers at UC Riverside is one of the first to show a significant reduction in the total number and diversity of intestinal bacteria in mature mice that receive an unhealthy diet as young.
“We studied mice, but the effect we observed is that children have a Western diet, high in fat and sugar, and that their intestinal microbiome is still affected up to six years after puberty,”
An article describing the study has recently been published in Journal of Experimental Biology.
The microbiome refers to all the bacteria, as well as fungi, parasites and viruses that live on and inside a human or animal. Most of these microorganisms are found in the intestines, and most of them are useful, stimulate the immune system, break down food and help synthesize important vitamins.
In a healthy body, there is a balance between pathogenic and beneficial organisms. However, if the balance is disturbed, either by the use of antibiotics, disease or unhealthy diet, the body can be exposed to disease.
In this study, Garland’s team looked for effects on the microbiome after dividing their mice into four groups: half received the standard, ‘healthy’ diet, half received the less healthy ‘western’ diet, half had access to a running wheel for exercise, and half without.
After three weeks spent on these diets, all the mice were returned to a normal diet and no exercise, which is normally how mice are kept in a laboratory. At the 14-week mark, the team examined the diversity and abundance of bacteria in the animals.
They found that the amount of bacteria such as Muribaculum intestinale was significantly reduced in the western diet group. This type of bacteria is involved in carbohydrate metabolism.
Analysis also showed that the intestinal bacteria are sensitive to how much training the mice received. Muribaculum bacteria increased in mice given a standard diet that had access to a running wheel and reduced mice on a high-fat diet whether they had exercise or not.
Researchers believe that this species of bacteria, and the family of bacteria it belongs to, can affect the amount of energy available to the host. Research continues into other functions that this type of bacteria may have.
Another effect of the attention was the increase in a very similar bacterial species that was enriched after five weeks of treadmill training in a study by other researchers, which suggested that training alone may increase its presence.
Overall, UCR researchers found that a Western diet in early life had more long-lasting effects on the microbiome than exercise in early life.
Garland’s team would like to repeat this experiment and take samples at several times to better understand when the changes in mouse microbiomes first appear, and whether they extend into even later phases of life.
However, no matter when the effects first appear, the researchers say it is important that they were observed as long as the diet was changed, and then changed back.
Takeaway, Garland said, is really, “You’re not just what you eat, but what you ate as a child!”
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