Diets rich in certain plant-based foods are linked with the presence of gut microbes that are associated with a lower risk of developing conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, according to recent results from a large-scale international study that included researchers from King’s College London, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), University of Trento, Italy, and health science start-up company ZOE.
The PREDICT 1 study analyzed detailed data on the composition of participants’ gut microbiomes, their dietary habits, and cardiometabolic blood biomarkers. The researchers found evidence that the microbiome is linked with specific foods and diets, and that, in turn, certain microbes in the gut are linked to biomarkers of metabolic disease. Surprisingly, the microbiome has a greater association to these markers than other factors, such as genetics. Their report, authored by Dr. Francesco Asnicar (University of Trento) and Dr. Sarah Berry (King’s College London) and coordinated by Tim Spector (King’s College London) and Nicola Segata (University of Trento), appears in Nature Medicine.
Dr. Sarah Berry, Reader in Nutrition Sciences at King’s College London said,
“As a nutritional scientist, finding novel microbes that are linked to specific foods, as well as metabolic health, is exciting. Given the highly personalized 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.”
For example, the findings reveal that having a microbiome rich in Prevotella copri and Blastocystis species was associated with maintaining a favorable blood sugar level after a meal. Other species were linked to lower post-meal levels of blood fats and markers of inflammation.
Professor Tim Spector, Epidemiologist from King’s College London, who started the PREDICT study program and is scientific founder of ZOE explains,
“When you eat, you’re not just nourishing your body, you’re feeding the trillions of microbes that live inside your gut.”
Researchers also discovered that the makeup of subjects’ gut microbiome was strongly associated with specific nutrients, foods, food groups and overall diet composition. The researchers found robust microbiome-based biomarkers of obesity, as well as markers for cardiovascular disease and impaired glucose tolerance, which are key risk factors for COVID. These findings can be used to help create personalized eating plans designed specifically to improve one’s health.
“I am very excited that we have been able to translate this cutting edge science into an at-home test in the time it has taken for the research to be peer reviewed and published,” says Spector. “Through ZOE, we can now offer everyone an opportunity to discover which of these microbes they have living in their gut. By using machine learning, we are able to share with you our calculations of how your body will respond to any food.”
The researchers found in subjects who ate a diet rich in healthy, plant-based foods were more likely to have high levels of ‘good’ gut microbes. Conversely, diets containing more highly processed plant-based foods were more likely to be associated with the ‘bad’ gut microbes.
“We were surprised to see such large, clear groups of what we informally call ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbes emerging from our analysis,”
affirmed Nicola Segata, PhD, professor and principal investigator of the Computational Metagenomics Lab at the University of Trento, Italy and leader of the microbiome analysis in the study.
“It is also exciting to see that microbiologists know so little about many of these microbes that they are not even named yet. 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.”
PREDICT 1 was an international collaboration to study links between diet, the microbiome, and biomarkers of cardiometabolic health. The researchers gathered microbiome sequence data, detailed long-term dietary information, and results of hundreds of cardiometabolic blood markers from just over 1,100 participants in the U.K. and the U.S. PREDICT 2 completed its primary investigations in 2020 with a further 1,000 U.S participants, and PREDICT 3 launched a few months ago.