The human colonic microbiota degrades dietary substrates that are indigestible in the upper GIT (gastrointestinal tract), releasing bacterial metabolites, some of which are important for gut health. Advances in molecular biology techniques have facilitated detailed analyses of the composition of the bacterial community resident in the lower GIT. Such analyses have indicated that more than 500 different bacterial species colonize an individual, and that, although there is much functional consistency in the resident bacterial groups, there is considerable inter-individual variation at the species/strain level. The bacterial community develops during early childhood until it reaches an adult-like composition. Whereas colonization and host factors influence the species composition, dietary factors also have an important impact, with specific bacterial groups changing in response to specific dietary interventions. Since bacterial species have different metabolic activities, specific diets have various consequences for health, dependent on the effect exerted on the bacterial population.

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