Can the Iceman Tell Us Something About the Healthiest Diet?

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? 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. 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. 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…

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…

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HEALING CHRONIC PAIN SUMMIT "There is, most likely, at the current stage of our knowledge, a programming phase early on that makes the brain more vulnerable later to develop a chronic pain syndrome." Join thousands who are registering to watch this online summit with 47 leading experts. In this summit, we acknowledge and recognize that everybody has a unique story around their pain and we empathize with what you are going through. We are also shedding light on different ways of looking at chronic pain. We want to give you some new keys to unlock the doorway to reclaiming your quality of life. Each story is unique, and various kinds of chronic pain can be different manifestations of similar deep rooted imbalances in the body, mind, and spirit. Here is a preview of my presentation: Click here to access the Healing Chronic Pain Summit The Pain Summit Facebook page is here.

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.

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.