That was the headline on Swedish Television News this week. New research has shown that a varied intestinal flora can increase the chances that certain cancer treatments will work effectively.
In a new study, researchers examined patients with skin, lung or kidney cancer (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2017/11/01/science.aan4236), diagnoses for which the most common treatment is immunotherapy (i.e., the immune system is activated to fight the tumors). These cancers were chosen because scientists wanted to find out why such a large proportion of patients were not helped by the available treatments. In the study, it was found that those patients who were not helped by immunotherapy were missing several strains of good bacteria in their intestinal flora.
– The difference in intestinal flora between those who became healthier and those who became sicker were like night and day, according to cancer researcher Jennifer Wargo.
We’re not surprised. A rich and varied intestinal flora has proven to be an effective weapon against many chronic diseases, and now it seems to also have a positive effect on the treatment of some of our most common cancers. (Of course, we want to be sure to mention that most leading researchers in Sweden agree that research on intestinal flora is still in its early stages, and that we should be careful not to draw any far-reaching conclusions – yet they also still emphasize the importance of a varied intestinal flora.)
So, what is a varied intestinal flora? Well, it’s a flora that contains many good bacteria of many different kinds.
At our lectures, we like to show a chart comparing common intestinal flora in our part of the world with those of indigenous peoples (in our chart we use the Yanomami people, who reside in the Amazon area). The chart shows that, in our part of the world, we have lost about 40% of our intestinal flora compared to indigenous peoples. It’s interesting to see that while chronic (also called lifestyle-related) diseases are rising, and becoming common even among young people in our part of the world, there are hardly any of these diseases among the Yanomami people. Yanomami, of course, are not immortal, but the risk that they’ll die from an insect bite is probably significantly larger than their risk of contracting type 2 diabetes.
To build up a rich intestinal flora, we need to eat a lots of plant fibers. Plant fibers are the main food source of our good bacteria. And unfortunately, it’s not enough to just eat a ton of fiber, we have to ensure that we are consuming all kinds and varieties of fiber-rich foods, something we can only get by eating a varied diet.
Here on earth there are about 300,000 edible plant species, but in the western world we only use up to 200 of them. Although we have thousands of different products in the supermarkets, most of them unfortunately contain the same ingredients: wheat, sugar, and corn. In addition, the majority of these products are processed, making them even lower in fiber. Among the indigenous peoples, it’s quite the opposite – they barely have any processed foods, and instead take advantage of an infinite amount of different (raw) foods, each full of fibers of all kinds.
So, is it time for all of us to pack up and move to the Amazon? No, maybe that would be overdoing it (though the idea is exciting).
However, you should consider moving a bigger part of the produce section into your kitchen — at least if you’re concerned about maintaining rich and varied intestinal flora.
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