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August 29, 2018
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Hunter-gatherer lifestyle can alter children’s gut microbiome

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Children from an urban environment as old as 7 years might be able to alter their gut microbiome diversity by switching to a more traditional, hunter-gatherer lifestyle, according to research published in mSphere.

Maria G. Dominguez-Bello, PhD, of Rutgers University, and colleagues studied a group of seven urban visitors (5 adults and 2 children) who visited an indigenous village in Venezuela to explore the impact of this dramatic shift in diet and lifestyle on the visitors’ microbiota.

“We wanted to look at the question of whether microbiota change during a drastic, radical change of diet and lifestyle,” Dominguez-Bello said in a press release. “In this village, there was no market economy, no bodega, no Coca-Cola — so this represented a radical shift in diet from a high percentage of processed foods in urban places to zero processed foods and an all-natural diet.”

Researchers collected samples from multiple body sites — including fecal, oral, nasal and skin — over the course of the visitors’ 16 day stay at the village and compared them with age-matched villagers using 16S RNA sequencing.

The normal diet in the village includes a lot less meat and fat than an urban diet, while incorporating more foods high in fiber, like cassava, as well as wild fruits and berries. The visitors also bathed in a river without soap during their stay.

While none of the adult visitors experienced any significant change to their microbiome, Dominguez-Bello and colleagues found that the children’s microbiota trended toward a higher number of total microbial species present.

Although their findings were not statistically significant because of the small sample size, researchers think they could indicate that older children might be able to alter their microbiome by changing their diet and lifestyle.

Currently, children are thought to have stable gut microbiota by the time they are 3 years old. The children who visited the Venezuelan village were 4 and 7, according to the press release.

“This indicates that the window for maturing your microbiome may not be 3 years of age, but longer,” Dominguez-Bello said in the press release.

Researchers are planning a larger study of 12 urban children who are visiting a traditional village for an immersion summer camp. – by Alex Young

Disclosures: Healio Gastroenterology and Liver Disease could not confirm the authors’ relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.