Bacteria We Like

Photo: Christing

Here’s a piece of health-care advice you may not have expected: Play in the dirt more.

Scientists and nutritionists have offered several theories about why food intolerance and allergies have been on the rise in Western societies. A recent Stanford study offers new evidence that our lifestyles may be contributing and suggests more cooties (and fewer Ho Hos) might help.

The number of species of friendly bacteria that lived in our digestive systems for eons has been shrinking throughout the modern age, caused in part by a heavy reliance on processed foods. As each generation passes on a lower prevalence of helpful microbiota, the ability of our gut to effectively process foods diminishes. Erica Sonnenburg, a senior researcher in microbiology and immunology at the Medical School and the lead author of the study, told the Telegraph “there are very few ecosystems where low species diversity is a good thing. There’s no reason to think our gut is any exception.”

In Sonnenburg’s mice experiments, changing to a more fiber-intensive diet that mimics what hunter-gatherers might have eaten did not restore the microbiota that had been lost. Reintroducing it might require getting your hands dirty from time to time, and letting nature take its course.