World’s First Microbiome Study

April 29th, 2016
The world's first microbiome study has just been released, with the Flemish Gut Flora Project identifying 69 factors linked to gut flora composition and diversity. Set to be published in the leading academic journal Science, these results will provide important information for future disease research and clinical studies. Gut flora is an important component of human health, with this project investigating key links between diet, lifestyle, and gut flora composition. While people are becoming more aware of the importance that the gut plays in human health, this is the first study to comprehensively link gut health with diet and lifestyle choices.

Titled "Population-level analysis of gut microbiome variation", prof. Raes' study identified 69 factors associated with the composition of gut flora after analysing over 1000 human stool samples. According to Raes: "Our research has given us a tremendous amount of new insight into the microbiota composition of normal people like you and me. This makes the Flemish Gut Flora Project unique, since the majority of previous studies focused on specific diseases or featured a significantly smaller geographical scope. However, analysing the 'average' gut flora is essential for developing gut bacteria-based diagnostics and drugs. You need to understand what's normal before you can understand and treat disease".

In one interesting discovery, it seems particular bacterial groups have a preference for certain foods such as dark chocolate and beer. Links were also found between gut flora and stool transit time, oxygen uptake capacity, and medication. While antibiotics and laxatives have long been known to have an effect on gut health, negative links were also found between hay fever drugs, anticonception hormones, and menopause medication. Anything that adversely affects our gut flora balance has the potential to negatively impact our lives.

According to Raes: "These results are essential for disease studies. Parkinson's disease, for example, is typically associated with a longer intestinal transit time, which in turn impacts microbiota composition. So to study the microbiota in Parkinson's disease, you need to take that into account. These and many other observations can help scientists in their research into future therapies."

A healthy gut is a balanced gut, with good food and lifestyle habits helping to limit the bad guys and encourage the good guys to grow. While physical signs such as gas and bloating are well known indicators of an unhealthy gut, poor gut health has also been linked to mental issues such as depression, autism, and OCD. Because almost everything we do affects the health of our gut, it can be difficult to get an overall picture of gut health. Even though the Flemish Gut Flora Project is the largest project of its kind, it still only accounts for 7 percent of gut flora variation. The Raes Lab estimates that around 40,000 human samples will be needed to be captured a complete picture of gut flora biodiversity, meaning we still have a long way to go.

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