There has been an increase in interest in research regarding the microbiome and how it’s connected to a wide range of diseases, including some types of carcinoma, obesity, and bowel diseases. In studies with animals, scientists found that microbiome changes had an impact by increasing or regulating diseases. The scientific community as a result shifted its interest toward studying the human microbiome with the goal of developing a clinically proven diagnostic tool. However, the research is still in its beginning phases.
What is the microbiome?
The human gastrointestinal system consists of trillions of microorganisms, the majority being bacteria, followed by viruses, fungi, and more. All of these microorganisms have an important role not only for important functions, such as digesting food and processing vitamins and proteins, but they greatly affect the overall health. They’re highly beneficial, and having a diverse microbiome is key for a healthy gut and body in general.
How the microbiome affects the health
A healthy microbiome brings a lot of health benefits, including the following:
- Reduced risk of inflammation
- Better metabolism
- Stronger immune system
- Greater energy levels
- Better emotional health
- Lower risk of chronic diseases
The health of the microbiome highly depends on the person’s lifestyle, habits, and environmental conditions. An imbalance in the microbiome is connected to a higher risk of disease and can lead to health problems like autoimmune diseases, digestive issues, obesity, or even Alzheimer’s disease.
The importance of gut health has been neglected by scientists for a long time, but the interest has grown in recent years. The questions about the role of the microbiome in disease prevention and treatment of certain illnesses have put newer studies on the path of new discovery.
How does your diet impact your gut biome?
Individual’s diet habits, their preferences regarding the food they consume, and other lifestyle factors are directly correlated with the kind of microorganisms that live in their intestines. Other factors play a role in the structure of the microbiome as well, with genetics being the most important one. It becomes clear now that every person’s collection of microorganisms is individual and there are no two people with the same gut biome.
The effect it has on the immune response of the body is a major question for researchers. To answer that, it is important to first know what foods are key for having a diverse and healthy gut.
Research shows that a diet filled with vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains is beneficial for promoting the growth of good bacteria in the gut. It’s important to nourish and maintain good bacteria because it affects how our bodies function, improving our immune response, impacts our energy levels and overall mood, as well as reduces and prevents inflammation.
The path toward individualized dietary advice
There is hope that the research in this field will bring individualized diets to a new level. The key point is that everyone’s nutritional needs are different, based on their genetic variants. Some people might find the most health benefits in foods high in fat, while others might be more sensitive to high cholesterol intake. Personalized information offers new possibilities for treating patients who are trying to lose weight or manage illness. Therefore, DNA-based and microbiome-based testing and dietary services are becoming more popular and many companies offer them nowadays.
How microbiome DNA testing works
Testing the microbiome allows us to examine and analyze all the components of a person’s gut, which includes trillions of microorganisms, their pathways, and their specific functions. When it’s clear which microbes live in your gut, it’s important to understand how they affect your body. To do that, scientists take your sample to the lab and look at the bacteria DNA, allowing them to see whether the biome ecosystem is well balanced and healthy or there are certain risks and dietary and lifestyle changes that need to be made. The information that this advanced technology provides is key in creating guidelines towards disease prevention, healthy diet, and balanced overall health.
Besides individualized dietary services that many companies offer, based on the gut microbiome, there is DNA testing for nutritional advice as well. Knowing if certain genetic components are playing a part in the food allergy or intolerance is a piece of valuable information these tests provide.
The research shows there are genetic variations that are common for people suffering from obesity, and examining that can help people who are struggling to keep on track and regulate their diets.
Benefits of microbiome testing
Microbiome tests allow you to get valuable insight into the components that make up your entire gut ecosystem. You will learn what microorganisms live in your intestines, and how they affect your body and health. This information is crucial when it comes to creating science-based guidelines about the steps to take for a balanced microbial environment and how to maintain it.
It is helpful for people who are on their weight loss journey or want to create the perfect variety of healthy foods for their diet plan. People who are suffering from digestive problems may greatly benefit from knowing what kind of imbalance plays a part in their issues.
Other valuable information microbiome tests provide include:
- Is your body unable to digest certain foods?
- Based on the amount your body can process, the amount of proteins you need in your diet.
- What nutritional habits you follow and antioxidants you take might not actually be beneficial for your organism.
- Are you consuming too much iron, which is potentially dangerous and can lead to the growth of certain pathogens, such as Salmonella and Shigella
At-home DNA tests
My Psomagen is one of the companies that provide microbiome tests. They offer to test for gene traits, which gives you insights into the genes that affect many of your individual traits, capabilities, and behaviors. They also provide you with information about which gene variations affect your vitamin or fatty acid levels.
Testing for the gut biome offers you the opportunity to learn about the consistency of bacteria that are present in your gut and improve your digestive health by reducing inflammation or bloating.
Methods of sampling for the microbiome analysis
To better understand how microbiome research works, let’s look at the methods of sampling most commonly used in studies. Various methods that provide information about the gut biome are available to researchers. Factors that are important when it comes to choosing a method for a specific study include cost, practicability, and patient compliance.
When we talk about what scientists are sampling, the most common sample used in the research is stool. It is easily accessible and they are a good choice for longitudinal studies, which would not be possible with biopsy samples. Stool sampling offers insight into microbial ecosystems, however, it can often be inaccurate or ambiguous. Research shows that it doesn’t capture all of the microorganisms in the gut, specifically some microbes found in the small intestine.
When it comes to data used in the research, traditional approaches focused on the identification of clusters of bacteria and pathogens examination, while the most recent research looked for systems of microbes as a whole, rather than examining individual organisms.
Culturing is a method of sampling that appears to be the most sensitive when it comes to detecting the microbiome. It can be used on different sample types–blood, skin, or stool. This method allows researchers to classify and isolate phenotypes according to pathogenicity, antibiotic sensitivity, and resistance mechanisms. However, culturing seems to be the best choice when a small number of well-known bions are looked at. It appears that other techniques are needed to get the bigger picture and look at the highly complex gut microbiome in its entirety.
There are many challenges scientists face in their work. There has been a great debate about the problems regarding the state of microbiome research. Currently, the research seems to have limited use in distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy gut biome. One of the big issues here is that there is a large variance in the microbiome of healthy individuals. This is the result of the complexity of factors affecting the human microbiome, including genetic, lifestyle, and environmental influences.
Minimal variations in the combination of these factors will create a relatively big influence on determining whether a person is healthy or at risk for disease. Another challenge lies in understanding what the clinical implications are when we consider the vast individual differences. Interactions between microorganisms, their host, and specific life conditions also need to be taken into consideration because what might be a balanced microbiome for one person might not be considered healthy in a different context.
Rising interest in the human microbiome brought the importance of research in this field to light. Studies about the microbiome have been greatly valuable for understanding how diseases develop and how they affect the human body. However, there’s still a long path that scientists need to cross before microbiome testing becomes a standard for disease diagnostic or dietary guidelines.