Drinking Water Source and Intake Are Associated with Distinct Gut Microbiota Signatures in US and UK Populations

J Nutr. 2022 Jan 11;152(1):171-182. doi: 10.1093/jn/nxab312.


Background: The microbiome of the digestive tract exerts fundamental roles in host physiology. Extrinsic factors including lifestyle and diet are widely recognized as key drivers of gut and oral microbiome compositions. Although drinking water is among the food items consumed in the largest amount, little is known about its potential impact on the microbiome.

Objectives: We explored the associations of plain drinking water source and intake with gut and oral microbiota compositions in a population-based cohort.

Methods: Microbiota, health, lifestyle, and food intake data were extracted from the American Gut Project public database. Associations of drinking water source (bottled, tap, filtered, or well water) and intake with global microbiota composition were evaluated using linear and logistic models adjusted for anthropometric, diet, and lifestyle factors in 3413 and 3794 individuals, respectively (fecal samples; 56% female, median [IQR] age: 48 [36-59] y; median [IQR] BMI: 23.3 [20.9-26.3] kg/m2), and in 283 and 309 individuals, respectively (oral samples).

Results: Drinking water source ranked among the key contributing factors explaining the gut microbiota variation, accounting for 13% [Faith's phylogenetic diversity (Faith's PD)] and 47% (Bray-Curtis dissimilarity) of the age effect size. Drinking water source was associated with differences in gut microbiota signatures, as revealed by β diversity analyses (P < 0.05; Bray-Curtis dissimilarity, weighted UniFrac distance). Subjects drinking mostly well water had higher fecal α diversity (P < 0.05; Faith's PD, observed amplicon sequence variants), higher Dorea, and lower Bacteroides, Odoribacter, and Streptococcus than the other groups. Low water drinkers also exhibited gut microbiota differences compared with high water drinkers (P < 0.05; Bray-Curtis dissimilarity, unweighted UniFrac distance) and a higher abundance of Campylobacter. No associations were found between oral microbiota composition and drinking water consumption.

Conclusions: Our results indicate that drinking water may be an important factor in shaping the human gut microbiome and that integrating drinking water source and intake as covariates in future microbiome analyses is warranted.

Keywords: American Gut Project; drinking water; gut microbiota diversity; human microbiome; oral microbiota; water intake; water source.

MeSH terms

  • Drinking Water*
  • Feces
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • United Kingdom


  • Drinking Water
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S