Dairy intake impacts western gut microbiota

5 Oct 2016

A new study has found that eating dairy, fruits and vegetables may affect the mix of bacteria in a toddler’s gut, potentially influencing lifelong health.

The University of Queensland’s Paula Smith-Brown studied the diet and microbiota of dozens of Queensland toddlers.

“An unbalanced gut microbiota is thought to be related to many health conditions, including diabetes, obesity, gut disorders and allergies,” Ms Smith-Brown said.

“The gut microbiota is established in the first few years of life and diet is considered one of the most important modifiable factors determining what our gut microbiota is like.”

Ms Smith-Brown, an Accredited Practising Dietitian at the UQ Children’s Nutrition Research Centre, found that dairy intake was associated with less diverse gut bacteria, typical of the ‘Western’ microbiota.

“People who live more ancient lifestyles, including hunter-gatherer and agricultural societies have more diverse gut microbiota,” Ms Smith-Brown said.

“The Western diet is unusual in that it contains significant quantities of pasteurised cow’s milk products.

“It is possible that dairy intake is causing us to have different microbiota to what we’ve evolved to have.”

Ms Smith-Brown said more research is needed to understand the association between dairy intake and gut microbiota and the associated health consequences.

“Dairy products are an important part of a child’s diet and provide a valuable source of protein and calcium to support healthy growth, so we are not suggesting that intake be reduced based on this research.”

The study found that fruit and vegetable intake were associated with altered levels of some bacteria.

“It is possible that microbiota changes may be one of the reasons that eating fruits and vegetables is associated with so many health benefits,” Ms Smith-Brown said.

“If someone is looking to improve their diet, eating more fruits and vegetables is usually a good place to start.”

“For people who have food or gut issues which they think might be linked to their gut microbiota I would recommend seeing an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

“It may not be a case of ‘one size fits all’ – understanding the relationship between diet and microbiota is an important step in developing personalised nutrition advice in the future.”

The study is published in Scientific Reports.

Media: Paula Smith-Brown, p.brown1@uq.edu.au0424 669 161; Kim Lyell, k.lyell@uq.edu.au, +61 7 33465214, 0427 530647.