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Research Narrows Gut Bacteria Down to 3 Major Types

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Inflammatory Bowel Disease related image Photo: Getty Images

Some day soon doctors might have one more question to ask as they diagnose various digestive conditions: what kind of bacteria live in your gut?

Thanks to a study out of Europe, researchers have determined that people fall into one of three categories when it comes to intestinal microbes, or bacteria. It’s kind of like the division of the human population into blood types or eye color. Only this time the question is, are your gut bacteria from the type Bacteroides, Prevotella or Ruminococcus?

The answer might eventually help doctors determine your susceptibility to inflammatory bowel disease or obesity, as well as how good you are at metabolizing food and medications.

The classification into three types appears to be unrelated to nationality, ethnic background, gender, age or diet, according to the researchers at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany. The study’s results appeared April 20, 2011, in the journal Nature.

As many as a thousand species of bacteria can flourish in the gut, where they help digest food and synthesize vitamins. A variety of bacterial cells also live in the mouth, nose, skin and urinary and genital tracts. In naming the three types of gut bacteria as either Bacteroides, Prevotella or Ruminococcus, the researchers are actually using the names of the bacteria that are most dominant in each of the three ecosystems.

The German team happened to be studying fecal samples from a small group of Europeans when it came across the bacteria types by comparing the cells from that study with cells from a small study group of Americans and Japanese. "We were very surprised" to see the cells clustering neatly into three groups, said Peer Bork, a senior author of the research. The study has now expanded to more than 400 samples, and the clustering is still evident, Bork added.

As for the impact of the discovery on diagnosis and treatment for intestinal issues, there is still much work to be done.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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