What a Hunter-Gatherer Diet Did to a Man’s Gut Bacteria in Just Three Days

July 7, 2017 at 5:46 pm

After just three days of living and eating with the Hadza gatherer-hunters, the gut flora of a relatively healthy British professor were transformed for the better.

Tim Spector, a genetic epidemiology professor at King’s College London, has been studying the “major influence” gut bacteria (and other microbes) have on our immune system, metabolism, mood and general health. What he and his colleagues have found is the greater the gut flora diversity – the more types of microbes – the better. High diversity is associated with low risk of obesity and all types of disease.

Spector says he already knew changing to a more Paleolithic diet could cause major shifts in unhealthy people with low-diversity, unstable gut flora, but he wanted to know how much the microbiome of a relatively healthy Westerner could be improved by adopting a 100-percent authentic gatherer-hunter diet.

He got the chance to find out when his colleague Jeff Leach, founder of the Human Food Project, invited him on a trip to Tanzania, where he’s been living and working among the Hadza, one of the last gatherer-hunter groups in the world.

Jeff Leach of the Human Food Project with the Hadza hunter-gatherers of Tanzania

The diversity of the Hadza’s gut flora, whose diet includes more than 600 species of plants and animals, is among the richest in the world.

After eating with the Hadza for just three days, Spector — who already had very healthy/diverse gut flora for a civilized person — increased his microbe diversity by 20 percent, an astonishing improvement. Not surprisingly, his gut flora balance returned to what it was before when he returned home.

Spector wrote about his adventure and exotic diet in an article published by CNN July 5:

For breakfast, he had fresh baobab fruit, the staple of the Hadza diet, packed with vitamins — especially Vitamin C — and fat in the seeds.

For snack, wild berries, mostly Kongorobi berries, which have 20 times the fiber and polyphenols of cultivated berries.

For lunch, a few high-fiber tubers “dug up with a sharp stick by the female foragers and tossed on the fire. These were more effort to eat – like tough, earthy celery.”

For dinner, he was asked to join a hunting party to track down porcupine.¬† “The heart, lung and liver were cooked and eaten straight away. The rest of the fatty carcass was taken back to camp for communal eating. It tasted much like suckling pig.”

“Harvested high from a baobab tree, our dessert was the best golden orange honey I could ever imagine — with the bonus of honeycomb full of fat and protein from the larvae. The combination of fat and sugars made our dessert the most energy-dense food found anywhere in nature and may have competed with fire in terms of its evolutionary importance,” Spector wrote.

In another article, Jeff Leach, co-founder of The American Gut, argues that the microbiome of the average civilized human is an “ecological disaster zone.”

While a big piece of the problem is obviously our diet (grains, refined sugars and refined fats), Leach may be onto another part of the problem.

While Westerners are taught to wash their hands with antibacterial soaps and gels and wipe down their shopping carts with antibacterial wipes, Leach says Hadza hunters have a more pro-bacterial approach, “washing blood from their hands with the microbial-rich stomach contents of the same animal:”

Before we shake our heads in disgust, let’s remember who has the best gut flora in the world.