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Human Gut Microbiota

April 2017

In research published in 2013, information was shared about the influence of diet on the microbiota of the gut, especially the colon. “The large intestinal microbiota in humans is highly complex and comprises many hundreds of bacterial species… bacteria are present at around 1011 cells per ml in adults (who have 250 ml)”, Scott et al. The gut microbial composition is strongly influenced by diet, from birth to death. As well, the microbial species acquired at birth, host genetics, immunologic factors, and antibiotic use can alter the microbial composition.


Scott et al. say, “From birth it is evident that diet has an impact on the development of the microbial communities in the gastrointestinal tract. Babies that are solely breast-fed (sp) until weaning have a microbiota dominated by bifidobacterial, whilst those that are formula-fed tend to have a more diverse microbiota. Following the introduction of solid food to an infant diet, the microbiota changes and by the age of three the microbiota resembles a relatively stable, ‘healthy adult-like’ composition”, (2013).

The diversity of microbiota in the large intestine consists of several hundred species which can vary from individual to individual, with certain bacteria consistently present in most people. The primary dietary changes which have an impact on changes in these microbiota are carbohydrates, resistant starch, non-starch polysaccharides, prebiotics, probiotics, proteins, proteolytic bacteria, and dietary fats.

Part of the conclusion of the Scott study reads, “Key mechanisms to maintain gut health are considered to include consumption of a diet high in non-digestible carbohydrates, which will reach the colon for fermentation by gut microbiota, with limited amounts of protein and fats” (p57). They also discuss including probiotics described as “live microorganisms which when consumed in large enough amounts will confer a health benefit to the host”. However, probiotics and the health effects they can provide are at mercy of poor dietary supplement choice and inconsistent choice of appropriate bacterial strains.

Watch for more on the human microbiome coming in April…


Kathy Parkes, MSN-Ed, BSPsy, RN, IBCLC, RLC, FILCA

Professional Development Educator



Scott, K.P., Gratz, S.W., Sheridan, P.O., Flint, H.J., and Duncan, S.H.  (2013).  The influence of diet on the gut microbiota.  Pharmacological Research; 69: 52-60.

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