MONDAY, Aug. 2 (HealthDay News) -- Children in an African village who ate a largely vegetarian diet and were breast-fed until the age of 2 had vastly different gut bacteria than children in a European city who ate a Western diet and were breast-fed about only half that time.
And the gut bacteria that dominated those small Western stomachs may predispose these children to become obese and develop allergies later in life, according to new research from Italian scientists in the Aug. 2-6 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While this study didn't actually look at obesity levels or allergies, which have also been linked to changes in gut flora, the findings do point again to the havoc Western diets and lifestyles are playing on health, said Mario Ciani, chair of natural science at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.
"The problem is we eat too much cheap, convenient food because it's our lifestyle and that can contribute to allergies," added Marianne Grant, a registered dietitian and health educator at Texas A&M Health Science Center Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi.
The huge number and diversity of "good" microbes residing in the human gut actually helps people digest and process the foods they eat.
According to background information in the study, humans' diet and gut flora transformed dramatically with the Neolithic age and the beginning of agriculture and less nomadic lifestyles about 10,000 years ago.
With the change in the food supply, the number and type of gut bacteria also transformed and may have contributed to more diseases.
More gut changes took place with the introduction of antibiotics, vaccines and better hygiene in the 20th century. And these changes coincided with more allergic and autoimmune conditions.
These authors, from the University of Florence, compared fecal samples fr
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