Nutritionists have long told us “You are what you eat,” an adage embodied in the food pyramid every child learns in school. Now, out of the Netherlands comes evidence that what’s in our gut has a connection to a variety of illnesses including osteoarthritis, heart disease and diabetes.
Presenting the findings of a broad study of 422,417 unrelated adults of British ancestry, author Dr. Hilde Groot of University Medical Centre Groningen in the Netherlands, said the bacteria and other microorganisms found in the human digestive tract – the gut microbiome — influence our health.
Speaking at the virtual meeting last month of the European Society of Cardiology, Groot said, “Our study indicates that microbiota might have an important role in maintaining health and could help us develop novel treatments.”
Higher levels of 11 types of bacteria were associated with a total of 28 health and disease outcomes. These included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), atopy (a genetic tendency to develop allergic diseases like asthma and eczema), frequency of alcohol intake, high blood pressure and high blood lipids.
A number of previous studies have found a relationship between the gut microbiome and individual diseases. Medicine has sometimes turned to fecal transplants to rebuild colonies of helpful bacteria wiped out by heavy antibiotic use.
The Netherlands study is the first one to investigate multiple diseases and other traits in a single group of individuals.
Rather than attempt to measure the make-up of each study subject’s microbiome, the researchers used genetic data from the UK Biobank as a proxy. They also collected information on a wide range of diseases and other characteristics including body mass index and blood pressure.
“Considering that the results were observed in one cohort, this cautiously supports the notion that microbiota and the substances they produce (called metabolites) provide links between numerous diseases and conditions,” said Groot.
She cautioned however that “More research is needed to validate our findings.”
“Follow-up studies are required to study causality before giving concrete advice to the public and health professionals. This study provides clues where to go.”