Have you heard of Dr. Jeffrey Leach? He is an anthropologist who is studying one of the few isolated cultures left on this earth — the San of Namibia. His research design is to study the impact of diet on the gut microbiome. I have written a great deal about the gut microbiome so if you have been reading this blog you know I am fascinated by it. Quite frankly, I believe that what we discover about the human microbiome, will lead us to an understanding about the real cause of modern disease, and this will lead us to a real cure.
Dr. Leach has designed a research project that will study groups of the San people who have reverted back to their ancestral hunter/gatherer diet and compare them with San people who are eating many Western foods. How cool is that!
The Human Food Project, Anthropology of Microbes
This project is one of the first of its kind to study the gut ecology of anyone, much less a group of people who are eating their true ancestral diet. The information gleaned from this project will shed light upon the microbiome-disease-diet axis that we are confronting in our health today.
By having this opportunity to study the gut ecology of traditional groups of people they will be able to determine if interventions may modulate and improve health in significant ways.
Since these traditional groups are fast disappearing, it is critically important to obtain samples of their gut ecology now.
What is a sample of someone’s gut ecology?
I’ll tell you in one word — poop! Yep. These researchers are going to take stool samples from the San people and analyze them for microbial diversity. What a brilliant idea! We have the technology to identify bacterial DNA. This is a perfect way to harness technology and use it to guide us.
The study will also include working with several of the San villages that will revert back to a pure hunter-gatherer lifestyle for 30, 60 and 120 day periods. Detailed diet and environmental conditions will be monitored, and a full suite of samples (feces, skin and oral swabs, etc.) will be collected and prepared for analysis.
They will also monitor the impact of seasonal changes in diet on the gut microbiome in a natural setting. This is something that has never been done. They will also monitor high protein/fat diets from terrestrial versus aquatic resources and the role hygiene plays on the gut microbiome and innate and adaptive immune systems.
Minimally contacted groups
The researchers will live amongst some very isolated groups. There will be no livestock, no agriculture, no western food, no medications. There will be natural births and extended breast feeding.
This project will be conducted for 12 – 18 months.
How did the idea for this project come about?
Recently, a study called the Human Microbiome Project was completed. It was supported by the National Institute of Health. This project was tasked to characterize and monitor the changes in the microbial communities of 242 healthy people over two years. This gives us an incredible view of the gut ecology of people living in a western culture.
However, as great as that information is, as Dr. Leach says,
… it likely did not truly capture what a “normal” or “healthy” microbiome is, or might be. By this I mean the study volunteers were living a westernized lifestyle and probably eating a great many more processed and easily digestible carbohydrates than were present on the ancient nutritional landscape that selected for our current human-microbiome. In addition, the vast majority of the study participants were likely consuming less protein and good fats than our ancient microbiome was selected and the diversity and quantity of dietary fiber (oligo- and polysaccharides) was probably so low (<20g a day, on avg) as to not even register on our evolutionary radar.
The Human Food Project
Because of this confounding factor Dr. Leach has designed and implemented the Human Food Project. By studying the last few isolated cultures around the world, they will be able to identify what a normal and/or healthy gut microbiome is supposed to be like. However, they better do it quickly before globalization swallows these few cultures up.
Dr. Weston Price
In the 1930’2 and 1940’s Dr. Weston Price traveled the world in search of isolated cultures who were not eating the “displacing food of modern commerce.” Back then there were only 5 commercial foods. Even so, it was hard to find cultures that were still eating only their traditional foods — today there are thousands of additives and chemicals in the global food supply, so you can imagine how difficult it is to locate any isolated cultures at all.
Dr. Leach has designed his project to compare the San People who are following their traditional hunter/gatherer diet with other San people who are not. In addition, he will compare those two San groups with Americans who are eating a variety of diets: Paleo, vegetarian, vegan, etc.
However, he won’t be looking at teeth. Oh no. Dr. Leach will be analyzing in a lab the microbiota taken from all the individuals in these groups. He will be applying the most modern and advanced techniques in DNA to determine exactly what species and varieties of microbes reside in the guts, in the mouth and on the skin of these individuals.
From this data he will determine how our modern diet affects the microbial communities living within us. This is the first time this has ever be done an it is very exciting!
What do you think? Are you as excited as I am about this project? Leave a comment and let me know!
To find out more about this project click here.
- Old Friends: The Hygiene Hypothesis
- How to Mend a Broken Gut
- Gut Bacteria in Autistic Children is Different
- Probiotics: The New Therapeutic Frontier
- Beyond Probiotics: Helminths