Can the Iceman Tell Us Something About the Healthiest Diet?

Can the Iceman Tell Us Something About the Healthiest Diet?

prescription drug lasix The “Iceman” or “Ötzi” refers to an individual whose mummy was found about 10 years ago in the receding glaciers of the Ötztal Alps a mountain range in the central Alps between Austria and Italy. His well preserved body has been stored in a cooling chamber of the Archeology Museum in Bolzano, Italy, and is probably the most thoroughly investigated individual from the Neolithic period. Can the stomach contents of this individual reveal something about the preferred diet of people transitioning from a hunter gatherer to an agrarian lifestyle, and the associated health benefits?

lasix ivp used for To answer this question, investigators have examined the stomach contents of this 5,300-year old European glacier mummy who according to the latest forensic studies was killed by an arrow shortly after enjoying his last meal. The study revealed that the Iceman had a remarkably high proportion of fat in his diet, supplemented with fresh or dried wild meat and ancient grains. An earlier study had demonstrated that the gut microbial composition of the Iceman was more similar to microbiomes of agrarian societies (and of primates), suggesting a predominantly plant based diet with an occasional treat of wild game.

generic levitra best prices Do we have any evidence for the health benefits of this ancient diet? The investigators were surprised of the large amount of animal fat found in the person’s stomach. The investigators asked: “Did he load up on fatty meat to meat the caloric needs of roaming in the extreme alpine environment in which he lived and where he was found at 3,210m above sea level?” On the other hand, the intake of animal adipose tissue fat has a strong correlation with increased risk of coronary artery disease. There was evidence on computer tomographic scans of the Iceman that he had major calcifications of his major blood vessels consisting with advanced atherosclerotic disease state, a surprising finding in an individual who likely got regular vigorous workouts climbing up and down the mountains in his backyard. He was in his 40s, the average life expectancy of people of his time, half of our current life expectancy.

levitra originale Firenze Obviously, the study only provides a snapshot of dietary habits of this time, and tells us little about the average intake of different types of food and the relative proportion of carbs, protein and fat. However, in view of the presence of grains and carbohydrates in his stomach and the composition of his gut microbiome, the Iceman was certainly not adhering to a strict paleo diet.

Clomid for men Even though many other factors are obviously involved, it is surprising that when comparing cardiovascular health and longevity, our often maligned North American diet combined with our sedentary lifestyle is associated with much better health outcomes than those of our Neolithic ancestors, something to consider when claiming health benefits from ancient diets high in meat and animal fats. Maixner F et al. The Iceman’s last meal consisted of fat, wild meat and cereals. Current Biology 28:2348-55, 2018

Lessons Learned from the Gut Microbiome of Hibernating Brown Bears

Lessons Learned from the Gut Microbiome of Hibernating Brown Bears

Obesity and compromised metabolic health are often thought to be closely linked. However, a study by Fredrik Baeckhed’s group at the University of Gothenburg suggests that this is not necessarily the case – at least in brown bears! (1)

By studying body weight and the gut microbiota in brown bears both during the summer and during the winter period – when these animals go into a 6 months hibernation period – they identified major differences in the diversity and relative abundances of certain gut microbiota. During the summer the bears overeat and dramatically gain body weight, while during the prolonged fasting period in winter they lose all the excess weight. The most fascinating aspect of this study was that despite their “summer obesity” the bears did not develop the negative metabolic changes including insulin resistance and diabetes known as metabolic syndrome, a metabolic dysregulation which has shown a dramatic increase in North America and other developed countries.

Looking for a possible role of the gut microbiome in these seasonal metabolic changes, the investigators looked at the bears’ gut microbes and metabolites. Surprisingly, during hibernation there was a reduction in diversity and reduced levels of certain taxa, in particular Firmicutes and Actinobacteria, and increased levels of Bacteroidetes. Transfer of the stool of bears obtained during different seasons into germ free mice (mice without their own gut microbiome) mimicked some of the metabolic findings of the bears, clearly implicating a role of the microbiome in the seasonal metabolic variations.

The three microbial taxa that showed seasonal variations in the bears make up the majority of the human gut microbiota, and changes in their relative abundance in the gut have previously been shown by Ruth Ley and coworkers in obese subjects. (2) In their study, they found that the relative abundance of Bacteroidetes increases while that of Firmicutes decreases as obese individuals lose weight on either a fat- or a carbohydrate-restricted low-calorie diet. The increase in Bacteroidetes was significantly correlated to weight loss but not to total caloric intake. In a study by Peter Turnbaugh and coworkers, the investigators showed that when ‘obese microbiota’ were transplanted into the gut of mice without their own microbiota (so called germ free mice) they showed a significantly greater increase in total body fat than mice colonized with the ‘lean microbiota’. Their results suggested that an “obese microbiome” has an increased capacity to harvest energy from the diet, and that this type of obesity was “transmissible” by gut microbiota. (3)

Returning to the brown bear study Baeckhed’s group, the gut microbial changes observed when the bears were in a state of prolonged fasting and weight loss (increased abundance of Bacteroidetes, and reduced Firmicutes) were similar to the “lean human microbiota”, and the mirror image of the microbial changes observed in obese subjects further implicating the gut microbiota in the metabolic state of the organism.

As it is with most animal studies, extrapolation from the fascinating bear study to the cause of the human obesity epidemic and its treatment has to be done with caution. However, there are several important implications:

  • Obviously it would be great to identify the microbially produced chemicals that allows the bears to become obese summer after summer without developing metabolic consequences detrimental in human obesity.
  • Similarly, it would be of great interest to identify the microbial signaling molecules that are able to shut off the bear’s drive to eat when it is time to go into hibernation.
  • Intermittent fasting has been proposed as an effective way to loose weight and improve metabolic health, and several human studies support such a dietary regimen. (4)

Most importantly, like other recent studies in humans (5) they confirm that diet induced physiological oscillations in the gut microbiota’s diversity and relative abundance of different taxa have a significant influence on the metabolic state of the healthy organisms. The loss of such seasonal microbial oscillations in the microbiome of individuals living in developed countries, which have been showing a progressive and apparently irreversible decline in diversity is likely to play an important role in many chronic diseases, including type II diabetes and metabolic syndrome.

  1. Sommer F et al. The gut microbiota modulates energy metabolism in the hibernating brown bear Ursus arctos. Cell Reports 14: 1655-61, 2016
  2. Ley, R. E., et al.. Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Nature. 2006 Dec 21;444(7122):1022-3.
  3. Peter J. Turnbaugh et al. An obesity-associated gut microbiome with increased capacity for energy harvest. Nature. 2006 Dec 21;444(7122):1027-31.
  4. Patterson RE et al. Intermittent fasting and human metabolic health. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Aug;115(8):1203-12. doi: 10.1016/j.jand.2015.02.018. Epub 2015 Apr 6.
  5. Smits SA et al. Seasonal cycling in the gut microbiome of the Hadza hunter gatherers of Tanzania. Science 357:802-6, 2017
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Fascinating study reporting results obtained from nearly 12,000 people around the world as part of the American Gut Project

Fascinating study reporting results obtained from nearly 12,000 people around the world as part of the American Gut Project

‘Largest’ microbiome study weighs in on our gut health

Fascinating study reporting results obtained from nearly 12,000 people around the world as part of the American Gut Project.  Major findings of this landmark study are the fact that it is the diversity of plant based foods that a person consumes (and not just the fact that somebody identifies as vegan or vegetarian) that influences gut microbial diversity and relative abundances, and that there is an association of mental disorders with gut microbial function, with gut microbial characteristics being more similar amongst several psychiatric diseases than compared to healthy individuals.  Even though the findings are solely based on associations, and do not allow to make statements about causality, they represent the most comprehensive analysis of gut microbial data published to date.


Important implications for development of future therapeutic strategies using engraftment of microbial species into our gut microbiome.

Important implications for development of future therapeutic strategies using engraftment of microbial species into our gut microbiome.

comprare levitra in farmacia An exclusive metabolic niche enables strain engraftment in the gut microbiota
Elizabeth Stanley Shepherd, William C. DeLoache , Kali M. Pruss , Weston R. Whitaker & Justin L. Sonnenburg


After programming of the general compositional architecture of the gut microbiota in early life, the established microbial ecosystem remains fairly stable and resilient to perturbations throughout life. Such perturbations include infections, colonic cleansing, diet or antibiotic intake.  While this is stability and resilience is generally of great benefit for the host, it becomes a challenge when we try to modify an compromised microbiome by the intake of probiotics or fecal microbial transplantation.  Before we can move on to modulate a maladaptive or disease related gut microbial composition by such interventions, there is a need for basic insight into the factors that influence whether and under what circumstances new strains of bacteria can integrate into a pre-existing, complex microbiota.

This latest study from the Sonnenburg lab demonstrates in mice that the combined administration of a specific sugar molecule called porphyry and a microbial strain that is not part of the normal gut microbiota but which contains the genes for the exclusively utilization of this sugar molecule results in the engraftment of the new microbe into the existing gut microbial ecosystem. As stated by the authors: “Privileged nutrient access enables reliable engraftment of the exogenous strain at predictable abundances in mice harbouring diverse communities of gut microbes.

These findings have important implications for the development of future therapeutic strategies using the engraftment of lacking or novel microbial species into our gut microbiome.  Such strategies may become important of the treatment of such various disorders as autism spectrum disorders, inflammatory bowel disorders and obesity.