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The Correlation Between Diet, Illnesses, and the Gut Microbiome

‘HEALTHY’ and plant-based diets promote a microbiome linked to lower risks of common illnesses, such as heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes mellitus, according to a recent study from epidemiologists and nutritional scientists.

Microbes in the gut are shaped by diet and influence host metabolism; however, these links are complex and can be unique to everyone. Therefore, in their study, the researchers performed deep metagenomic sequencing of 1,203 gut microbiomes from 1,098 individuals enrolled in the PREDICT 1 study, whose detailed long-term dietary habits as well as cardiometabolic blood marker measurements were available.

Results highlighted significant associations between microbes and specific nutrients, foods, food groups, and dietary indicators, which were especially driven by the presence and diversity of healthy and plant-based foods. A healthy diet included a mix of foods associated with a lower risk of chronic disease; trial subjects who were exposed to such a healthy diet, or one rich in plants, were more likely to have increased levels of ‘good’ gut microbes associated with lower risk of common illnesses. The study also revealed specific microbiome-based biomarkers of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and impaired glucose tolerance, key risk factors of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Dr Sarah Berry, King’s College London, London, UK, stated: “Given the highly personalised composition of each individuals’ microbiome, our research suggests that we may be able to modify our gut microbiome to optimise our health by choosing the best foods for our unique biology.” For instance, the study exhibited that a microbiome with elevated Prevotella copri and Blastocystis species was associated with maintaining a favourable postprandial glucose metabolism, and other species were linked to lower post-meal levels of blood fats and markers of inflammation. Fellow author, Prof Nicola Segata, University of Trento, Trento, Italy, noted: “We were surprised to see such large, clear groups of what we informally call ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbes emerging from our analysis. It is also exciting to see that microbiologists know so little about many of these microbes that they are not even named yet.” A major focus for the team will be to better understand these microbes to create new methods to utilise the gut microbiome as a modifiable target to improve human metabolism and health.