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How microbiome science is leading to human nutritional innovations

We all know food plays a critical role in health, but can anyone really answer why or how it is so important? Scientists have made numerous links between particular foods and health outcomes over the past few decades, enabling dietitians and other professionals to give guidance, with some level of certainty, toward dietary choices that will maximize their ability to live longer, fuller lives. But many of these links between diet and health remain associative, gleaned from epidemiological studies with little evidence of causation. One example is dietary fiber—while it is clear that a higher consumption of fiber is associated with a myriad of health benefits and even lower mortality, the underlying mechanisms have remained elusive.

Microbiome science is playing a role in changing this uncertainty. Population cohort studies show that, aside from medication, diet is the leading environmental factor that predicts the composition of the gut microbiome from person to person. Meanwhile, experimental studies are showing the gut microbiome influences various aspects of human immune and metabolic health. Thus, many see the potential for diet to become a powerful means of manipulating the human gut microbiome for better health.

Under this framework, a number of companies are already focusing on the development of foods that better support the microbiome and health at different points in the lifespan, from infancy to older adulthood. Microbiota-modulating ingredients may be deliberately included in foods or concentrated into supplements—and then, of course, tested for their measurable effects on the health of the host.

Thinkstock image, used with permission

Below are some examples of microbiome-enabled innovations that may be around the corner for nutrition, both for healthy populations and for those with disease:

Nutritional interventions that support brain health

Alzheimer’s disease places a significant burden on both health services and patients’ family members, and prevalence is estimated to increase dramatically in the coming decades. Could nutritional interventions play a part in preventing this condition? Jared D. Hoffman of the University of Kentucky (USA) is studying a microbiota-modulating prebiotic intervention as a possible way to prevent Alzheimer’s disease in those who carry the APOE4 gene; in a mouse model, he found that increased intake of inulin led to gut microbiota alterations (e.g. more Bacillus subtilis), increased scyllo-inositol (which moves through the blood-brain barrier into the brain), and decreased amyloid beta in the brain.

Supplements to change the microbiome for healthy aging

While extremely healthy older individuals show gut microbiota compositions that resemble much younger individuals, it’s not clear whether the gut microbiota itself confers youthfulness or good health. However, interventions targeting the gut microbiota may show promise. One company recently carried out a placebo-controlled clinical trial of its resistant starch product in older adults, testing both gut microbiome changes and the resultant health effect; they found increases in bifidobacteria, which accompanied significant differences in blood glucose, insulin levels, and insulin resistance.

Dietary therapeutic interventions for IBD

Anecdotally, many people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) report an influence of diet on their symptoms; yet dietary research in IBD has been inconclusive, and diet is currently not a part of the standard therapeutic regimen for IBD. The exception is with exclusive enteral nutrition (EEN) for certain cases of Crohn’s disease—this diet appears effective at inducing remission. Gut microbiota is under investigation as the mechanism behind this effect, with recent research suggesting the gut microbiota of the patient at baseline may predict the success of EEN. In future, the idea of using microbiome composition to predict responders may be extended to other food items or dietary patterns in IBD, expanding the therapeutic toolbox for both Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Nutritional interventions that boost bacteria with therapeutic potential in obesity and metabolic disease

Akkermansia muciniphila is a member of the human gut microbiota that may have particular importance in metabolic health; it stimulates butyrate production and prevents the development of obesity in animal models, and is currently being tested in a human clinical trial. Many regulatory hurdles, however, will need to be cleared before bringing these “bugs as drugs” to market. In the meantime, research may help uncover specific nutritional interventions that can increase Akkermansia in the gut environment for potential effects on metabolic disease and obesity.

These are just some examples of experiments in food science that have shown manipulation of health by way of the gut microbiome. As such, leaders in the food industry are beginning to use microbiome science to develop products that better support health, but not all companies have the internal expertise to tackle the challenge. Microbiome Insights addresses this gap in expertise by working closely with clients to plan and execute all aspects of nutrition-related microbiome studies. Our team is collaborating with several industry clients to help advance new food products and supplements that enhance health through the microbiome—confident that microbiome science will help guide us toward knowledge of who should eat what, and when, for better health.

About the company

Microbiome Insights, Inc. is a global leader providing end-to-end services for microbiome DNA sequencing, including state-of-the-art bioinformatic analysis. Based in Vancouver, Canada, the company’s customized suite of services enables researchers and clinicians to easily and effectively include microbiome analysis in studies across a range of human, animal, agricultural and environmental applications. The multidisciplinary team of researchers and knowledge leaders at the company’s helm provide access to decades of expertise in traditional sciences such as ecology, microbiology, infectious diseases, and genetics. Microbiome Insights’ award-winning team is committed to providing clients with fast, dependable, cost-effective results.

 

Banff Keystone Symposia on Gut Microbiota: Day Three Summary

Wednesday was the third day of the joint Keystone Symposia in Banff, Canada: (1) “Manipulation of the Gut Microbiota for Metabolic Health” and (2) “Microbiome, Host Resistance and Disease”, and the great talks kept on coming!

One track opened the day with a group of lectures on nutrition and gut microbiota. Jens Walter (a local, from University of Alberta) talked about modulation of the human gut microbiota with non-digestible carbohydrates—taking an ecological perspective. Then Nathalie Delzenne (Université catholique de Louvain) spoke about the links between prebiotics, gut microbiota, and human health, describing her intervention study on increasing inulin-rich vegetables in the diet. On the mechanism side, André Marette (Université Laval) described mouse work on the interaction between dietary polyphenols—for example, arctic fruit extracts—and the gut microbiota to alleviate obesity-related diseases. And regarding the early life period in humans, Maria Carmen Collado gave an apt overview of what we know about how the maternal microbiome (in breast milk especially) affects the infant gut microbiome and health. Meanwhile, in the other track, the account by Kerwyn Casey Huang (Stanford) of how the gut microbiota can be resilient to perturbations proved popular.

At 5:00 pm the action continued with a track on xenobiotics-microbiota interactions in metabolic diseases and another on disease tolerance, pathology, and the microbiome. In the latter, Yasmine Belkaid (NIAID, NIH) spoke about her extensive work on control of skin tissue immunity and repair by the microbiota, discussing how homeostatic immunity to the skin microbiota occurs through diverse mechanisms that may or may not involve inflammation. Janelle S. Ayres (Salk Institute) then talked about what she has learned about host-microbe interactions (and adaptations); she described her mouse model findings on how micronutrients—for example, iron—mediate healthy host-pathogen interactions.

Thursday will be the last day of these joint conferences! But don’t forget—you can still re-live the action on Twitter by searching the conference hashtags, #KSmicrobiome and #KSgut.