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Madonna’s Secret for Longevity Seen Aiding Bacteria Boom

The secret to Madonna’s staying power may be surprisingly simple: gardening.

What the pop star does involves no trowel or soil. Thanks to dishes of fermented soy beans, millet and brown rice prepared by her personal chef, Mayumi Nishimura, Madonna practices a form of inner horticulture -- cultivating her intestinal flora in a burgeoning alternative approach to health.

Studies of the trillions of bacteria living on and in the body suggest the Material Girl, 53, may be onto something. By eating foods rich in fiber and laced with so-called good bacteria, she may be encouraging helpful microbes to flourish in her bowel, aiding in food digestion and vitamin extraction and possibly staving off diseases from asthma to colon cancer.

“This diet that Madonna is following is very sensible,” says David Topping, chief food-nutrition researcher at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Adelaide, who studied gut biology for 25 years. “The bacteria that live inside you are fulfilling very important functions.”

While scientists try to understand the ecology of the bacteria and their interactions with diet and disease, companies are looking for ways to profit.

The health benefits of gut germs have spawned a global market for products that contain friendly bacteria, called probiotics, in the form of tablets or supplements added to foods by companies including Danone, Nestle SA (NESN), and Yakult Honsha Co. (2267)

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