The benefits of the Mediterranean diet have been well documented in recent years. Research indicates that it not only promotes heart health but also bone health. And according to a recent study, this diet can also help improve your gastrointestinal tract, or “gut.”
Researchers at Wake Forest University found that primates eating foods that are a part of the Mediterranean diet had more “good” bacteria than those who ate foods associated with the typical Western diet. Their findings were published in the April 25, 2018, issue of Frontiers in Nutrition. Now, more research needs to be done on humans, but this is an incredibly exciting first step when it comes to shining a light on gut health.
The study involved 20 monkeys that were fed different diets. Half of them ate foods with ingredients that are part of the Western diet. These included beef tallow, lard, cholesterol, and high-fructose corn syrup. The other group received ingredients more closely linked to the Mediterranean diet, such as fish oil, vegetable juice, fruit puree, olive oil, wheat flour, and bean flour. Both diets included butter, eggs, and sucrose.
The primates received these foods for 30 months. During this time, the researchers collected fecal samples and analyzed them for bacterial content.
According to the results, the primates on the Mediterranean diet saw an increase in good gut bacteria by 7 percent. The group on the Western diet, on the other hand, only saw a .5 percent in beneficial bacteria.
The Mediterranean diet has long been associated with a lower incidence of diabetes and heart disease, as well as lower cholesterol levels. Olive oil, a staple of this diet, is linked to a host of benefits on its own. These include support of weight management, improved appearance of skin, a strengthened immune system, and improved cognitive function.
The Importance of Lactobacillus
According to the study results, the primates on the Mediterranean diet experienced a substantial increase in the amount of Lactobacillus bacteria in their gut. This is a family of bacteria linked to several health benefits. It is often used in supplement form to address digestive issues, such as constipation and diarrhea. Lactobacillus is also used to keep the urinary tract healthy, and to bolster your immune system to fight the flu and common cold.
One particular strain, Lactobacillus acidophilus, has been shown to help support cholesterol levels, especially when it comes to keeping the amount of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol in check. And research indicates the Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain could help ease the symptoms sometimes associated with frustrating seasonal allergy attacks.
Lactobacillus is a group of bacteria known as “probiotic” bacteria. They help to ensure there is an ample supply of beneficial microbes in the gut. “We have about 2 billion good and bad bacteria living in our gut,” said Hariom Yadav, Ph.D., the lead researcher on the Wake Forest study. “If the bacteria are of a certain type and not properly balanced, our health can suffer.”