The human intestinal microbial ecosystem plays an important role in maintaining health. A multitude of diseases including diarrhoea, gastrointestinal inflammatory disorders, such as necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) of neonates, and obesity are linked to microbial composition and metabolic activity. Therefore, research on possible dietary strategies influencing microbial composition and activity, both preventive and curative, is being accomplished. Interest has focused on pre- and probiotics that stimulate the intestinal production of beneficial bacterial metabolites such as butyrate, and beneficially affect microbial composition. The suitability of an animal model to study dietary linked diseases is of much concern. The physiological similarity between humans and pigs in terms of digestive and associated metabolic processes places the pig in a superior position over other non-primate models. Furthermore, the pig is a human-sized omnivorous animal with comparable nutritional requirements, and shows similarities to the human intestinal microbial ecosystem. Also, the pig has been used as a model to assess microbiota-health interactions, since pigs exhibit similar syndromes to humans, such as NEC and partly weanling diarrhoea. In contrast, when using rodent models to study diet-microbiota-health interactions, differences between rodents and humans have to be considered. For example, studies with mice and human subjects assessing possible relationships between the composition and metabolic activity of the gut microbiota and the development of obesity have shown inconsistencies in results between studies. The present review displays the similarities and differences in intestinal microbial ecology between humans and pigs, scrutinising the pig as a potential animal model, with regard to possible health effects.
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