What’s Your Gut Microbiome Enterotype?

The human gut has “a diverse collection of microorganisms making up some 1,000 species, with each individual presenting with their own unique collection of species.” But it wasn’t known whether this variation is on a continuum or if people cluster into specific classifiable types until a famous study analyzed the gut flora of people across multiple countries and continents.

The researchers identified three so-called enterotypes. It’s pretty amazing that with so many hundreds of types of bacteria that people would settle into just one of three categories. The researchers figured that our guts are like ecosystems, similar to how there are a lot of different species of animals on the planet, but they aren’t randomly distributed. You don’t find dolphins in the desert, for example. This study suggested there are three types of colon ecosystems so you can split humanity into three types: people whose guts grow out a lot of Bacteroides-type bacteria, those whose guts are better homes for Prevotella, and others who foster the growth of Ruminococcus.

If you think it’s amazing that researchers were able to boil it down to fit everyone into one of just three groups, subsequent research on a much larger sample of people was able to fold Ruminococcus into Bacteroides, so now everyone fits into one of just two groups. So, now we know, when it comes to gut flora, there are just two types of people in the world: those who grow out mostly Bacteroides and those who overwhelmingly are home to Prevotella species.

The question is why? It doesn’t seem to matter where you live, whether you are male or female, or how old or skinny you are. What matters is what you eat. Researchers looked at more than 100 different food components, and a theme started to arise. Different groupings of bacteria were associated with the presence of a particular food component in the diet. In my video, you can see this illustrated in what’s called a heat map. Each column of the heat map is a different grouping of bacteria, and each row is a food component. Red is like hot, meaning a close correlation between the presence of a particular bacteria and lots of a particular nutrient in the diet. Blue is like cold, meaning you’re way off—a reverse correlation, meaning lots of a nutrient is correlated with very low levels of a bacteria in our gut. Bacteroides and Prevotella are kind of opposites. When it comes to things like animal fat, cholesterol, and animal protein, Bacteroides is red and Prevotella is blue, but when it comes to plant components like carbohydrates, Prevotella is red and Bacteroides is blue.

The study results clearly showed that the components found more in animal foods are associated with the Bacteroides enterotype, while those found almost exclusively in plant foods are associated with Prevotella. So, it is no surprise that another study found that African Americans fell into the Bacteroides enterotype, whereas most of the native Africans were Prevotella. This may matter because the Bacteroides species generally are associated with increased risk of colon cancer, our second leading cause of cancer death, yet a disease almost unheard of among native Africans. The differences in our gut flora may help explain why Americans appear to have more than 50 times the rate of colon cancer.

If whichever gut flora enterotype we are could play an important role in our risk of developing chronic diet-associated diseases, the next question is whether we can alter our gut microbome by altering our diet. The answer? Yes. Stay tuned.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live, year-in-review presentations—2015: Food as Medicine: Preventing and Treating the Most Dreaded Diseases with Diet, and my latest, 2016: How Not to Die: The Role of Diet in Preventing, Arresting, and Reversing Our Top 15 Killers.

Related:
Microbiome: The Inside Story
Preventing & Treating Diarrhea With Probiotics
Prebiotics: Tending Our Inner Garden

70 comments

william Miller
william Millerabout a month ago

thanks

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Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a month ago

As if we needed another great reason to be vegan/vegetarian, well now we have it!

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Leanne K
Leanne Kabout a month ago

Wow that makes sense!

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M. M
M. Mabout a month ago

I wonder which gut flora enterotype I have...
TYFS

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Philippa Powers
Philippa Powersabout a month ago

Thanks.

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Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Margie F
Margie Fabout a month ago

Thank you. Interesting.

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Mostapha Z
Mostapha Zabout a month ago

Thank you for an interesting article.I tend to agree with Julie W who wrote two threads below.

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Julie W
Julie Wabout a month ago

Interesting article, but Greger had to turn it into anti-meat propaganda. Many other cultures eat more foods that are prebiotics - they actually feed the probiotics in the gut. But he didn't mention that.

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Veronica Danie
Veronica Dabout a month ago

Thank you so very much.

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