ABSTRACT: Modulation of the gut microbiota is an area of growing interest, particularly for its link to improving and maintaining the systemic health of the host. It has been suggested to have potential to reduce risk factors associated with chronic diseases, such as elevated cholesterol levels in coronary heart disease (CHD). Diets of our evolutionary ancestors were largely based on plant foods, high in dietary fiber and fermentable substrate, and our gut microbiota has evolved against a background of such diets. Therapeutic diets that mimic plant-based diets from the early phases of human evolution may result in drug-like cholesterol reductions. In contrast, typical Western diets low in dietary fiber and fermentable substrate, and high in saturated and trans fatty acids, are likely contributors to the increased need for pharmacological agents for cholesterol reduction. The gut microbiota of those consuming a Western diet are likely underutilized and depleted of metabolic fuels, resulting in a less than optimal gut microbial profile. As a result, this diet is mismatched to our archaic gut microbiota and, therefore, to our genome, which has changed relatively little since humans first appeared. While the exact mechanism by which the gut microbiota may modulate cholesterol levels still remains uncertain, end products of bacterial fermentation, particularly the short chain fatty acids (i.e., propionate), have been suggested as potential candidates. While more research is required to clarify the potential link between gut microbiota and CHD risk reduction, consuming a therapeutic diet rich in plant foods, dietary fiber, and fermentable substrate would be a useful strategy for improving systemic health, possibly by altering the gut microbiota.
J AOAC Int. 01/2012; 95(1):24-30.