An Amazonian Tribe May Hold The Secret To Better Gut Health


A team of researchers are studying a remote hunter-gatherer community in the Peruvian Amazon with the express purpose of answering a single question: What did our digestive systems look like before antibiotics and fast food?

They now have some insight into how diverse ancient human gut bacteria was thousands of years ago — and how our modern intestinal colonies have changed as a result of our industrialized lifestyles.

A Matses woman with a traditional tattoo around her mouth. Tattoos link the Matses to an ancestral association with feline gods, according to researcher Alexandra Obregon-Tito.

Compared to a traditional agricultural community living in the Andean Highlands (also in Peru) and an urban-industrialized community in Norman, Oklahoma, the hunter-gatherers — a sovereign tribe, the Matses — boasted stunning bacterial diversity in their guts, including the presence of the genus, Treponema. This type of gut bacteria diversity, as well as the specific genus Treponema, has been found only in non-human primates and other hunter-gatherer communities in Burkina-Faso and Tanzania. The discovery provides scientists with a theoretical baseline for how human gut bacteria flourishes away from the influences of urbanization and industrialization.

Treponema is related to other bacteria that help metabolize our food. In doing so, it also releases chemicals that are anti-inflammatory and aid in the health of the colon. While Lewis has yet to prove any beneficial link between Treponema and the health of the Matses, he speculates that this type of bacteria are likely bestowing benefits to their hosts.

Because the Matses live in the Amazon, the community has been “geographically, historically and socially” isolated for many years, Lewis said. They live in a “pocket of natural hyperdiversity,” where they hunt or gather wild tubers, plantains, fish and occasional game meat like monkey, sloth and alligator. If they eat dairy foods, it’s only because —> Read More