Stuffing yourself with food means bad bacteria become worse, leading to disease
12/05/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

Looking for the cause of inflammatory diseases? Try overeating foods that contain little to no nutritional value. In their study, researchers from Germany concluded that an oversupply of food disturbed the way bacteria colonized the intestine.

Industrialization brought about new developments…and diseases

Many things have improved, thanks to advancements in technology. While these changes have led to better living conditions, it has also brought new “environmental diseases,” such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These inflammatory diseases often originate from disruptions to the human microbiome, especially in the gut.

Experts have developed various hypotheses to describe the disrupted relationship between microbes and their hosts. They identified extreme hygiene, overuse of antibiotic drugs and genetic factors as possible culprits that permanently disturb the gut microbiome.

However, none of the hypotheses succeeded in covering all of the details.

Researchers from Kiel University came up with a novel theory on how these environmental diseases developed, drawing from ecology and evolution.

They proposed that an unnatural and particularly comprehensive nutrient supply caused symbiotic bacteria to disconnect from their host organisms. Once the beneficial bacteria stopped working with their host, the balance of the microbiome went out the window.

Thus, overfed gut bacteria promoted the development of environmental diseases in the intestine. (Related: Prevent inflammation by avoiding these 7 trigger foods.)


The CAU researchers began their theory by looking at how the death of algae and coral impacted vital ocean ecosystems. They found that nutrient levels in the water could be a potential source of problems.

When human influences caused an oversupply of food, symbiotic bacteria in coral decoupled from their hosts. Instead of getting nourishment from metabolic products, the bacteria fed on the nutrients. Losing the symbiotic bacteria disrupted the health of the coral microbiome. The organism became more vulnerable to disease.

The researchers believe that their experimental results can also apply to humans. Recent diets have shifted the nutrient supply in the human gut toward an unbalanced diet rich in carbohydrates like sugar – but low in fiber.

The excessive supply of energy not only harms human health, but it also affects the gut microbiota. The gut bacteria stop consuming the metabolites produced by their human hosts.

In the study, the team noted other factors that worsened the gut microbiome imbalance, including:

  • The elimination of periodic fasting due to steady food supply
  • The rarity of diarrhea (albeit not the disease kind) that reduces the gut bacteria population
  • The poor diversity of gut microbes

The researchers posited that both periodic fasting and diarrhea helped the gut microbiome go back to a balanced state. They made it possible for the gut bacteria to recover healthy and natural diversity.

Periodic fasting is the gut's way of readjusting and restoring its health

Called the "over-feeding hypothesis," the CAU proposal could open the door to new approaches that prevent or treat environmental diseases and unbalanced microbiota.

Experts have sought out ways to restore the balance of a disturbed microbiome. For example, they increased the population of good bacteria through probiotic techniques like fermented food, supplements and fecal transplants. The CAU researchers also brought up the possibility of using the microbiome's natural ability to regulate itself through periodic fasting and diarrhea.

“An interesting question will be whether the original evolutionary processes which ensure the balance of the microbiome also have therapeutic potential,” explained CAU researcher Tim Lachnit.

“In the future, we will, for example, not only consider the known health benefits of fasting, but also its effects on the composition and function of the microbiome, and thus on the development of inflammatory diseases.”

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