The changing microbial landscape of Western society: Diet, dwellings and discordance

Mol Metab. 2016 Jul 21;5(9):737-42. doi: 10.1016/j.molmet.2016.07.007. eCollection 2016 Sep.


Background: The last 50-100 years has been marked by a sharp rise in so-called "Western-diseases" in those countries that have experienced major industrial advances and shifts towards urbanized living. These diseases include obesity, type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and food allergies in which chronic dysregulation of metabolic and/or immune processes appear to be involved, and are likely a byproduct of new environmental influences on our ancient genome. What we now appreciate is that this genome consists of both human and co-evolved microbial genes of the trillions of microbes residing in our body. Together, host-microbe interactions may be determined by the changing diets and behaviors of the Western lifestyle, influencing the etiopathogenesis of "new-age" diseases.

Scope of review: This review takes an anthropological approach to the potential interplay of the host and its gut microbiome in the post-industrialization rise in chronic inflammatory and metabolic diseases. The discussion highlights both the changes in diet and the physical environment that have co-occurred with these diseases and the latest evidence demonstrating the role of host-microbe interactions in understanding biological responses to the changing environment.

Major conclusions: Technological advances that have led to changes in agriculture and engineering have altered our eating and living behaviors in ways never before possible in human history. These changes also have altered the bacterial communities within the human body in ways that are seemingly linked with the rise of many intestinal and systemic metabolic and inflammatory diseases. Insights into the mechanisms of this reciprocal exchange between the environment and the human gut microbiome may offer potential to attenuate the chronic health conditions that derail quality of life. This article is part of a special issue on microbiota.

Keywords: Circadian; Inflammation; Microbiome; Short-chain fatty acids; Western diet.

Publication types

  • Review