A recent study using mice, and following them for 4 generations, has implications for Americans who typically eat a low-fiber diet (average of 15 grams daily). Note that current dietary guidelines recommend that women should eat around 25 grams and men 38 grams daily of fiber. The researchers found that low-fiber diets not only deplete the complex microbial ecosystems residing in the gut, but can cause an irreversible loss of diversity within those ecosystems in as few as three or four generations.
This is because fiber feeds the millions of microbes in the gut - and so a fiber-rich diet can nourish a wide variety of gut microbes, but a low-fiber diet can only sustain a narrower community. As the generations went by, the rodents’ guts became progressively less diverse, as more and more species were extinguished. If the fourth-generation mice switched to high-fiber meals, some of the missing microbes rebounded, but most did not. It took a fecal transplant (mice style) to get back the missing microbes. From Science Daily:
A study by Stanford University School of Medicine investigators raises concerns that the lower-fiber diets typical in industrialized societies may produce internal deficiencies that get passed along to future generations. The study, conducted in mice, indicates that low-fiber diets not only deplete the complex microbial ecosystems residing in every mammalian gut, but can cause an irreversible loss of diversity within those ecosystems in as few as three or four generations.
Once an entire population has experienced the extinction of key bacterial species, simply "eating right" may no longer be enough to restore these lost species to the guts of individuals in that population, the study suggests. Those of us who live in advanced industrial societies may already be heading down that path.