Gut microbiologists have had an idea of how diet affects the gut microbiome but not a lot of data to provide evidence that there’s a relationship. In a paper published Monday in Nature Medicine, a collaboration of gut microbiome researchers at several institutions provide the first batch of evidence linking diet to the gut microbiome.
The study’s authors included researchers at King’s College London, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), the University of Trento, Italy, and health science start-up company ZOE Global. The study, called PREDICT 1, involved more than 1,000 people in the U.K. and 100 people in the U.S.
Participants in the PREDICT 1 study had their gut microbiomes sequenced by the study’s authors. They also provided detailed long-term diet information and blood samples. The researchers found there were significant associations between microbes and nutrients and types of food. The authors suggest that food quality (unprocessed vs. highly processed), food source (plant-based vs. animal) and food type (healthy vs. unhealthy) were important for overall health and microbiome ecology.
In particular, the study results suggest that the diversity of healthy plant-based foods in the diet “shapes gut microbiome composition,” according to the paper. Another interesting finding is that there may be microbial indicators of obesity that researchers can identify in each individual. The researchers were able to identify metabolites in the blood that can serve as biomarkers that indicate cardiovascular disease risk.
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“We were surprised to see such large, clear groups of what we informally call ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbes emerging from our analysis,” says Nicola Segata, who is professor and principal investigator of the Computational Metagenomics Lab at the University of Trento, Italy, and leader of the microbiome analysis in the study, according to a press release.
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The study’s results suggest that we might be able to affect what microbes can survive in our guts based on our diets. Tim Spector, who is an epidemiologist from King’s College London, scientific founder of ZOE, the company that funded and supported the study, and started the PREDICT study program, says, “When you eat, you’re not just nourishing your body, you’re feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut.”
The company plans to bring this science to the public.
“Through ZOE, we can now offer an opportunity to discover which of these microbes they have living in their gut,” says Spector in the press release. “By using machine learning, we have the ability to share with you our calculations of how your body will respond to any food.”
The next steps for the research is to start clinical trials to test if people can change their gut microbiome make up by changing their diet, hopefully to increase the good microbes relative to the bad ones, according to The New York Times.
“We think there are lots of small changes that people can make that can have a big impact on their health that might be mediated through the microbiome,” Sarah Berry, a nutrition scientist at King’s College London and co-author of the study, said to The New York Times.
The next phases of the study, PREDICT 2, completed data collection in 2020 as a collaboration of ZOE with Massachusetts General Hospital and Stanford University. The main goals for this study are to further understand response to dietary intake, including meals and time of day, according to Fiana Tulip, ZOE’s head of communication. PREDICT 3 launched a few months ago, according to the press release. Its goal is to validate and “understand the effects of ZOE’s dietary advice on markers of weight, health and well-being,” says Tulip in an email to Changing America.
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