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Gut 42:2-7 doi:10.1136/gut.42.1.2
  • Leading article

Ecological control of the gastrointestinal tract. The role of probiotic flora

  1. S BENGMARK
  1. Lund University, Ideon Research Centre, Suite 230, Beta Building, S22370 Lund, Sweden

    The “new” lifestyle—a threat to health?

    It is increasingly evident that human diseases are most often related to lifestyle, and should in theory be preventable. The stress of modern life, our reduced physical activity, and our consumption of manipulated and processed foods, and of chemicals—including pharmaceuticals—all contribute to our decreasing resistance to disease. Much evidence supports the fact that our genes, adapted during millions of years to the lifestyle of our prehistoric ancestors, tolerate poorly the dramatic changes in lifestyle that have occurred, especially in food habits during the past 100 years.1Changes in food habits in Western countries that no doubt constitute stresses to the human body and that may predispose to inflammatory, infectious, ulcerative, degenerative, and neoplastic diseases include the following: the consumption of 100 lb refined sugar per individual per year; the 10-fold increase in sodium consumption; the fourfold increase in consumption of saturated fat; the doubled consumption of cholesterol; a much reduced consumption of vegetable fibres, and of minerals such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chromium; and a considerable reduction in consumption of n-3 fats, membrane lipids, vitamins, and antioxidants. In severe disease, important food ingredients, such as arginine, glutamine, taurine, nucleic acids, vitamins, and antioxidants, such as glutathione, are often not supplied in large enough quantities.

    Perhaps even more important than the decrease in these food ingredients, is the fact that prehistoric food contained several thousand times more bacteria, mainly the so called probiotic bacteria. Prehistoric methods of food preservation were either drying, or, more commonly, storing in holes dug into the ground, where the food became naturally fermented. This is how Stone Age man learned to produce most of our still common fermented foods, such as beer, wine, green olives, and sauerkraut. Our modern lifestyle has dramatically reduced the availability of foods produced by natural fermentation. After the early …