Diet, disease, and the microbiome

There is growing interest in the microbiome of the human body and its link to chronic disease. A new study is examining this link, as well as how the foods we eat influence the makeup of our microbiome.

The microbiome protects the host and plays a role in the risk of disease

The microbiome is made up of the genes of tiny organisms (bacteria, viruses, and other microbes) found in the gastrointestinal tract, primarily the small and large intestines. Normal gut flora – another term for the microbiome – protects its human host. For the microbiome to thrive, the right balance must exist, with healthy species dominating the less healthy.

Scientists do not fully understand how the microbiome plays into the risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Many factors, including the differences between individuals and individual diets have made this a difficult area to study.

Study examines relationships between diet, microbiome and disease risk

But a new study, published in Nature medicine, captures these factors and sheds light on how our diet shapes our microbiome and how our microbiome, in turn, influences our risk for disease.

Researchers studied more than 1,100 people enrolled in PREDICT 1, a large trial examining individual responses to food. They used a technique called metagenomic sequencing to identify, classify, measure, and analyze genetic material from the microbiomes of study participants. They also gathered detailed information about the long-term food intake of all of these individuals, so that they could analyze their eating habits, including their consumption of different food groups, foods and nutrients. In addition, they gathered information from study participants on various factors known to influence metabolism and disease risk, including before and after meal measurements of blood sugar (glucose), cholesterol and blood sugar levels. ‘inflammation. Finally, they measured the personal health characteristics of study participants, including age, weight, body mass index (BMI), body fat, and blood pressure.

Diet influences microbiome and microbiome influences disease risk

The study found that the health of the microbiome is influenced by diet and that the makeup of the microbiome influences the risk of health outcomes. The results showed that specific gut microbes were associated with specific nutrients, foods, food groups, and overall diet composition. Health issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and general inflammation appear to be most affected by diet-related microbiome changes.

For example, less healthy diets (dairy desserts, unhealthy meats, processed foods) supported gut species associated with measures of blood sugar, cholesterol and inflammation that are significantly associated with a higher risk of cardiac events. , stroke and type 2 diabetes.

In contrast, a more diverse gut microbiome was linked to healthy diets (high-fiber vegetables like spinach and broccoli, nuts, and healthy pet foods like fish and eggs) and was linked to measures related to a lower risk of certain chronic diseases. . Additionally, the study found that polyunsaturated fats (found in non-hydrogenated fish, walnut, pumpkin, flax and chia, sunflower, safflower and soybean seeds) produce healthy gut species linked to reduced risk of chronic disease.

A minimally processed plant-based diet is good for the microbiome and for reducing the risk of disease

So what do these results mean to us? First, the study showed that eating more unprocessed plant foods – fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains – allows the gut microbiome to thrive. Some foods of animal origin, such as fish and eggs, are also beneficial. Avoid certain foods of animal origin, such as red meat and bacon, dairy products, and highly processed foods (even processed plant foods such as sauces, baked beans, fruit juices, or drinks and desserts sugar) prevents less healthy gut species from colonizing the gut.

It is important to note that the quality of the food is important; processed or ultra-processed plant-based foods were not associated with healthy clusters of gut microbes. When choosing foods, consider whether or not it is processed or not, in addition to whether it is a plant or animal food.

It can also be helpful to think in terms of diets, rather than in terms of individual foods or food groups. Meal patterns that focus on foods that benefit the microbiome are whole-food, plant-based diets. These include vegan (no animal products) and ovo-vegetarian (vegetarian and egg) diets. The pescatarian diet, in which oily and white fish are the meats of choice, is also good for the microbiome.

Focusing on minimally processed plant foods allows the gut microbiome to thrive, providing protection against or lowering the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, metabolic disease, and obesity.

The post Diet, Disease, and the Microbiome first appeared on the Harvard Health Blog.

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Jothi Venkat

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