It’s one of our favorite holidays–World Microbiome Day–and what better way to celebrate the trillions of bacteria that live in our guts than by exploring the differences in gut microbiomes across the globe? Cue it’s a small world after all…
North vs. south
When it comes to comparing gut microbiomes across different regions, a clear divide emerges between the northern and southern hemispheres. Studies have shown that the gut microbiomes of people in northern latitudes tend to have a higher abundance of Bacteroides, a genus known for its ability to break down complex carbohydrates. Meanwhile, those in southern latitudes often exhibit a prevalence of Prevotella, a genus associated with plant-based diets.
In the land of hamburgers and pizza, the North American gut microbiome reflects the cultural mosaic that defines the region. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the Western diet prevalent in the United States leads to lower microbial diversity compared to indigenous communities. The rise of processed foods and reduced fiber intake has altered the microbial landscape, emphasizing the importance of a balanced diet in maintaining a healthy gut.
With its lush rainforests and vibrant cultures, South America is a treasure trove of microbial diversity. Indigenous populations, such as the Yanomami tribe in the Amazon rainforest, possess a rich gut microbiota profile, primarily attributed to their high-fiber, plant-based diets. These communities offer valuable insights into the interplay between traditional lifestyles, diet, and gut health.
East meets west
Traveling from east to west, the composition of gut microbiomes also takes an interesting twist. In Western countries, the dominant microbial players tend to belong to the Firmicutes phylum, while Bacteroidetes take the lead in Eastern populations. These variations can be attributed to differences in diet, lifestyle, and environmental factors.
European gut microbiomes showcase a fascinating interplay between cultural dietary traditions and microbial composition. Did you know that a study comparing gut microbiota in Italians and Swedes (among other countries) revealed distinct differences? For example, Italian gut microbiomes were found to be enriched with Prevotella bacteria, which thrive on a Mediterranean diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Meanwhile, studies show that the gut microbiome in Nordic countries tends to be more diverse which has been attributed to a high intake of fiber-rich foods like whole grains, berries, legumes, and root vegetables. These dietary components serve as prebiotics, which are substances that nourish and promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
In Asia, fermented foods have been a cornerstone of culinary traditions for centuries. These age-old practices have shaped the gut microbiomes of Asian populations. For instance, Korean kimchi and Japanese miso harbor unique strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, fostering a diverse and resilient gut microbiota. This microbial diversity has been linked to numerous health benefits, including improved digestion and immune function.
The vast and culturally rich continent of Africa boasts an awe-inspiring diversity of gut microbiomes. From the Maasai tribes of East Africa, whose diet revolves around milk and blood, to the hunter-gatherer Hadza people in Tanzania, who consume a high-fiber diet, each community reveals its own microbial signature. Studies have suggested that the microbiomes of African populations exhibit higher diversity than those in Western countries, highlighting the impact of diet and lifestyle on microbial health.
Urban vs. rural
The urban environment introduces its own set of challenges to our gut microbiomes. Research suggests that people living in urban areas tend to have less microbial diversity compared to those residing in rural or remote regions. Factors such as increased antibiotic usage, hygiene practices, and dietary changes contribute to this discrepancy.
Today may be World Microbiome Day, but we marvel at the remarkable diversity and adaptability of gut microbiomes across the globe every day. From the distinct microbial communities in the northern and southern hemispheres to the east-west variations influenced by diet and lifestyle and to the distinction between rural and urban, our gut microbiomes continue to amaze with their resilience and complexity.
Here's to the fascinating world of gut microbiomes and the extraordinary diversity that makes us all unique. Happy World Microbiome Day!