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How controlling your gut bacteria could help you avoid a host of illnesses from diabetes to Parkinson's

Mirror logo Mirror 6 days ago Grace Macaskill

Signals from your gut could hold the secret to a healthier life (Image: Getty) © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Signals from your gut could hold the secret to a healthier life (Image: Getty) Ever had a funny feeling in your stomach that tells you something is wrong? Or butterflies in your tummy when nervous? What about that bout of indigestion after snacking on cheese before bedtime?

Your digestive system churns out all sorts of signals, many of them not very welcome.

But they could hold the secret to a healthier life. And one day, as medical science advances, the contents of your gut could save your life.

The 10 trillion or so micro-organisms living there work hard to digest food, control the immune system, produce vitamins and protect you from disease-causing bacteria.

Now experts have developed a DIY test which examines the bacteria in your faeces – known as microbiome – and can predict diseases you are at risk of.

After your poo is analysed it rates conditions you are at risk of on a scale of low, moderate, average, increased and high.

The results mean you can improve or change your diet and lifestyle to ward of diseases.

Credits: Getty © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Getty To see what it was all about I tried out the Listen to Your Gut microbiome test by genetic specialists Atlas Biomed.

I just sent my sample off to their laboratory and two months later I had my results.

Even though my body mass index is in the normal range, the test showed that I was at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes, so it was time to stop skipping proper meals for late-night chocolate and rubbish snacks.

It also revealed I have an average risk of the bowel conditions ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s.

But it also picked up a moderate chance of hardening of the arteries – a condition which runs in the family. It turns out I’m also lacking most of the B vitamins and Vitamin K.

This was all good information and a useful wake-up call to start eating more healthily. But how can they tell all that from a simple poo sample?

a plate of food with a fork: Credits: Getty © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Getty Scientists have discovered that the microbiome plays such a key role in our health – protecting us from inflammation and bacteria which cause infectious diseases – that it is now considered a separate organ. Feed it the right food and it will flourish, guarding us against illness.

As experts investigate this new field, they have found the tiny organisms in our gut influence everything from mood to weight.

The microbes affect how we feel by controlling the amount of energy extracted from food and how much our blood sugar rises after eating.

It’s been found that having high levels of the bacteria called ­Christensenellaceae is associated with being slim.

Certain other strains of bacteria have been linked to disorders such as asthma, eczema, cancer and even Parkinson’s disease.

In the not-too-distant future, faecal transplants from healthy donors could become commonplace. Scientists in the Netherlands last year found that a healthy gut can protect you from nearly all age-related diseases including strokes, dementia and heart disease.

a close up of a person: Credits: Andy Commins/Sunday Mirror © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Andy Commins/Sunday Mirror So does analysing our microbiome provide us with a crystal ball when it comes to health?

“It’s different than that,” according to Sergey Musienko of Atlas Biomed, which carried out my test. “It’s accurate because it’s based on science.

“We’ve come to understand how important microbiome are for our body to work, and to keep it healthy we have to consume the right fibres.

“When we analyse a sample we look at the DNA of the bacteria that lives inside it.

“Specific types of bacteria are linked to specific conditions and we can identify them using the scientific knowledge we have.

“We compare the composition of your bacteria with the known types of people who suffer from certain conditions and that is how we are able to say how close on the way to a disease you are.”

a plate of food on a table: Credits: Getty © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited Credits: Getty One British scientist is leading the UK in the exploration of gut microbiome.

Tim Spector, a leading expert and professor of genetic epidemiology at Kin’gs College in London, says that one day bacteria could be manipulated to overcome illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome and even obesity.

The good news is we can change the make-up of our microbiome simply by improving our diets.

I was advised to boost my gut flora and ward off Crohn’s disease by eating more dietary fibre and foods such as flaxseed, bananas, figs, chick-peas, lentils, tomatoes, apricots and porridge.

Feeding our gut with essential vitamins and minerals ensures our bodies can fight inflammation and sickness.

It appears you are not just what you eat – but also what you excrete.

How to do the test

It’s not pretty, I’m afraid. The sealed box from genetic specialist firm Atlas Biomed dropped through my letterbox. Inside were full instructions, several pieces of robust, thick paper, a spatula and a large test tube.

First I had to deposit a poo sample in a paper contraption placed over the toilet. Then I had to scoop up a small amount of the sample with the spatula and get it in the test tube without getting any on my hands.

a close up of a piece of paper © Provided by Trinity Mirror Shared Services Limited To be fair, gloves were provided but I didn’t read the full instructions before proceeding. And by the time I realised I needed more information they’d fallen off the bathroom cabinet on to the floor and my hands were, ahem, full.

Finally I had to mix the sample with the liquid already in the tube and pack it back in the box ready for posting.

It can take up to two months for the results to come back but it’s well worth the wait.

Keep your gut healthy

Eat more fibre. It not only nourishes your microbes but makes them more diverse which can keep you slim. Swap processed foods with “added fibre” for fruits, vegetables and whole grains instead.

Go for foods which contain prebiotics, the non-digestible part of foods. Plants like garlic and leeks and fruit like bananas (not too ripe) are packed with prebiotics which boost gut flora.

Fertilise your microbiome with probiotic food, which contain live beneficial bacteria. Yoghurt, kefir, miso and sauerkraut are all fermented foods which help your flora. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that people who eat yoghurt regularly lost weight.

Starve your stomach of sugar: Scientists believe bad bacteria feed off sugar. When you get too many calories from sugar you starve your microbes of good stuff. Try nuts or an apple instead.

Get moving: People who exercise have more diverse microbes. A study of Irish rugby players showed they had higher levels of a bacteria called Akkermansiaceae which has been linked to lower obesity rates.

Related: Gut Health Directly Linked To Sleep Cycle (provided by Wochit News)

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