Review Article | Published:

The role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health

Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology volume 9, pages 577589 (2012) | Download Citation

Abstract

The microbial communities that colonize different regions of the human gut influence many aspects of health. In the healthy state, they contribute nutrients and energy to the host via the fermentation of nondigestible dietary components in the large intestine, and a balance is maintained with the host's metabolism and immune system. Negative consequences, however, can include acting as sources of inflammation and infection, involvement in gastrointestinal diseases, and possible contributions to diabetes mellitus and obesity. Major progress has been made in defining some of the dominant members of the microbial community in the healthy large intestine, and in identifying their roles in gut metabolism. Furthermore, it has become clear that diet can have a major influence on microbial community composition both in the short and long term, which should open up new possibilities for health manipulation via diet. Achieving better definition of those dominant commensal bacteria, community profiles and system characteristics that produce stable gut communities beneficial to health is important. The extent of interindividual variation in microbiota composition within the population has also become apparent, and probably influences individual responses to drug administration and dietary manipulation. This Review considers the complex interplay between the gut microbiota, diet and health.

Key points

  • Molecular surveys have revealed remarkable diversity within the human gut microbiota, but certain dominant species are detected in faecal samples from most healthy adults

  • Dietary intake, especially of nondigestible carbohydrates, alters the species composition of the gut microbiota both in the short term and in the long term

  • Interindividual variation in colonic microbiota composition influences responses to dietary manipulation

  • The gut microbiota potentially influences the host's energy balance through multiple mechanisms, including supplying energy from nondigestible dietary components and influences on gut transit, energy intake and energy expenditure

  • Whether variation in gut microbiota composition is a major factor that influences obesity and metabolic disease in humans is not yet clear

  • The latest research has suggested new candidate organisms among the healthy gut microbiota that might be beneficial to gut health and new strategies for correcting dysbiosis associated with certain disease states

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Acknowledgements

The authors receive support from the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analysis Service.

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  1. Microbiology group, Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health, University of Aberdeen, Greenburn Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK

    • Harry J. Flint
    • , Karen P. Scott
    • , Petra Louis
    •  & Sylvia H. Duncan

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H. J. Flint researched data and content for the article. H. J. Flint and P. Louis reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission. All authors contributed to writing the article.

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