A plant-based diet is linked to healthy gut microbes that could lower your risk for conditions like obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease, a new study finds.

“This study demonstrates a clear association between specific microbial species in the gut, certain foods, and risk of some common diseases,” said Dr. Andrew Chan, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “We hope to be able to use this information to help people avoid serious health problems by changing their diet to personalize their gut microbiome.”

In this study of more than 1,100 participants from the United States and Britain, researchers collected data on composition of their gut bacteria, dietary habits and blood markers.

They found evidence that the microbiome is linked with specific foods and diets, and that its makeup is also associated with levels of metabolic markers of disease. The microbiome has a greater link with these markers than other factors, such as genetics, researchers said.

“Studying the interrelationship between the microbiome, diet and disease involves a lot of variables because peoples’ diets tend to be personalized and may change quite a bit over time,” Chan said in a hospital news release.

Researchers found that those who ate a diet rich in plant-based foods were more likely to have high levels of specific gut microbes. They also found microbiome-based biomarkers of obesity, heart disease and impaired blood sugar tolerance.

“When you eat, you’re not just nourishing your body, you’re feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut,” said study organizer Tim Spector, an epidemiologist at King’s College London.

Nicola Segata, a principal investigator at the University of Trento’s Computational Metagenomics Lab in Italy, said researchers were surprised to see such large, clear groups of “good” and “bad” microbes emerging from the analysis.

“And it is intriguing to see that microbiologists know so little about many of these microbes that they are not even named yet,” he said in the release.

The findings were published Jan. 11 in the journal Nature Medicine.

More information

For more on the microbiome, visit the Harvard School of Public Health.

SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, Jan. 11, 2021