THURSDAY, April 16, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Americans have fewer types of intestinal bacteria than people in less-developed countries, according to a new study.
The likely cause? Bacteria are less likely to be passed from person to person due to better sanitation and cleaner drinking water in the United States, the researchers reported in the journal Cell Reports.
"These findings suggest that lifestyle practices that reduce bacterial dispersal -- specifically sanitation and drinking-water treatment -- might be an important cause of microbiome alterations," senior author Jens Walter, from the department of agricultural, food and nutritional science at the University of Alberta in Canada, said in a journal news release.
Bacteria naturally reside in the intestines and play an important role in health, but recent research has shown that a modern -- or western -- lifestyle reduces the diversity of these bacteria.
The reasons for this are unclear, so the authors of this new study set out to find answers. They compared the intestinal bacteria populations (gut microbiomes) of adults in rural areas of Papua New Guinea and adults in the United States.
Papua New Guinea is one of the least urbanized nations in the world, the researchers explained. People from that country who were included in the study have a traditional, agriculture-based lifestyle.
The gut microbiomes of the people in Papua New Guinea were much more diverse than those of the Americans. People from the United States lacked about 50 types of bacteria found in the Papua New Guineans, the study revealed.
The main reason for the greater variety of gut bacteria in the Papua New Guineans is the ability of these bacteria to move between people, something not seen among Americans, according to the study.
The results may help improve understanding about diseases linked with western lifestyles, the study authors suggested.
"The findings from this study provide information that could be used to develop strategies to prevent and redress the impact of westernization and potentially support the dispersal and transmission of microbes that have been eradicated," study co-author Andrew Greenhill, a senior lecturer in microbiology at Federation University Australia, said in the news release.
The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about the human microbiome.