Study Uncovers Link Between Gut Microbes, Good Health and Chronic Illnesses

Gut Health

A diet that is predominant healthy and plant-based encourages a mix of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut, which is linked with lower risk of common illnesses like heart disease, obesity and type-2 diabetes, new research has said. The study, published in Nature Medicine, was carried out by researchers at King’s College London, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard T H Chan School of Public Health, the University of Trento, Italy, and health start-up company ZOE. Using genomic samples, blood chemistry profiles and detailed data about the dietary habits, gut microbiomes and metabolic markers in the blood, researchers carried out the Personalized Responses to Dietary Composition Trial 1 (PREDICT 1).

The analysis pointed researchers to 15 microbes in the gut that are linked to common conditions like obesity and type-2 diabetes. The influence of these microbes and others correlated, either positively or negatively, with a person’s risk of serious conditions like diabetes, heart disease or obesity. Having a microbiome rich in Prevotella copri and Blastocystis species, for example, was associated with maintaining favourable blood sugar levels after eating a meal. Similarly, other species of bacteria were linked to lower blood fat levels and inflammation markers after a meal.

A leaky gut makes your intestines more permeable to absorption of nutrients and water, but also to their loss. Image: Harvard-Health

As the study describes it, a “healthy” diet has a mix of foods associated with a lower risk of chronic diseases. Subjects in the trial who ate a plant-rich diet were more likely to have high levels of “good” gut microbes that are, in turn, associated with low risk of common chronic illnesses. Also found in the study were biomarkers of obesity, cardiovascular disease and impaired glucose tolerance – all of which are risk factors for Covid-19.

“Finding novel microbes that are linked to specific foods, as well as metabolic health, is exciting,” said Dr Sarah Berry, a nutrition scientist at King’s College London. “Given the highly-personalised composition of each individuals’ microbiome, our research suggests that we may be able to modify our gut microbiome to optimize our health by choosing the best foods for our unique biology.”

Epidemiologist and Professor Tim Spector from King’s College London, who started the PREDICT study and is the scientific founder of ZO, said, “When you eat, you’re not just nourishing your body, you’re feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut.”

The health of the gut microbiome showed a greater link to these disease markers than other factors like genetics, which is thought to also play a role in gut health. Some of the microbes identified in the study are so novel, they are yet to be given a name.

“This is now a big area of focus for us, as we believe they may open new insights in the future into how we could use the gut microbiome as a modifiable target to improve human metabolism and health,” said Nicola Segata, leader of the microbiome analysis in the study and principal investigator of the Computational Metagenomics Lab at the University of Trento in Italy.

The findings could help nutritionists and enthusiasts personalize eating plans specifically to help improve one’s health. It also adds to the mounting evidence that gut health affects overall wellbeing in ways we don’t yet understand.

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