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Why Scientists Are Searching the Gut for Cures to All Chronic Diseases

Aug 29, 2018

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Scientists are urgently searching for clues and cures in what’s turning out to be the most important organ in the human body – the gut microbiome. 

Turns out, your most critical organ, isn’t even human. This complex ecosystem of bacteria, viruses, fungi, archaea, and bacteriophages play such a deep role across so many systems, scientists are saying we are only at the beginning of these incredible discoveries. Research continues to reveal just how important the gut microbiome is in shaping human health. 

The gut microbiome has been called the conductor of the immune–neuroendocrine system, home of the immune system, and even the second brain.1,2,3 

In fact, the gut microbiome’s role is so widespread in human biology, that scientists from nearly every field are checking for potential solutions in the gut. Chronic diseases are on the rise across the world, and the gut microbiome appears to be at the center of this epidemic. 

Viome’s mission is to make chronic illness optional and we’ve started this process by going right to the source. 

Viome is the only company that has the capability to do functional microbiome analysis. To put it simply, Viome not only can tell you the strains of organisms present in your gut, but more importantly it can tell you what they are actually producing. Such as: 

  • Are they producing nutrients like butyrate? Which your body needs to fight inflammation.
  • Or are they producing harmful compounds like LPS? Which are harmful and cause inflammation in your gut.  

Viome combines metatranscriptomic technology and artificial intelligence analysis to deliver personalized food recommendations to the palm of your hand. These actionable recommendations are specifically targeted at improving the health of your gut microbiome. 

Our relationship with these vital microbes needs to change, and Viome is leading the way. 


Redefining Our Complex Relationship With Bacteria


Since the beginning of time, we’ve had a complicated relationship with bacteria. While it’s  absolutely everywhere – in and on us – living mostly in harmony, bacteria gains our attention most often when it causes devastating outbreaks. 

From food recalls caused by various Salmonella strains to the bubonic plague caused by the  Yersinia pestis bacteria – history is full of catastrophic stories where bacteria wreaked havoc and caused widespread fear.4 Even today, antibiotic resistant strains like MRSA and CRE (ominously called “nightmare bacteria”), continue to perplex doctors and researchers alike.5

These scary stories have contributed to the widespread belief that “all bacteria is bad.” This dogma has fueled our war against these microorganisms since penicillin was first discovered in 1929. But mounting research suggests that more often than not, bacteria lives not only in harmony with the body, but significantly contributes to our health. 

Scientists are now sounding the alarm – we must re-examine our relationship and mindset towards bacteria with an open mind. Not only are these microbes critical to our survival, they influence everything from shaping our body to our mood. It seems they have a hand in nearly every aspect of our health. 

As Martin J. Blaser, professor of microbiology and director of the Human Microbiome Program at the New York University School of Medicine, put it:

“The composition of the microbiome and its activities are involved in most, if not all, of the biological processes that constitute human health and disease.” 6

The fact that the gut microbiome could potentially play a role in nearly every biological function has scientists rethinking health and diseases across the board. 

Since the gut microbiome is dynamic, fascinating, but also a confusing world – we want to dig deep into what we know currently about the gut microbiome. We are going to define important terms, find out why the gut microbiome is such a big deal, look at its role in digestion, immunity, hormone balance, mental health, skin appearance, and heart health. And ultimately, discuss why promoting diversity is essential. 


Why Your Microbiome Matters


Not only are you genetically outnumbered by microorganisms, your cells are outnumbered as well. The microorganisms in and on your body weigh between two and six pounds, making them heavier than your brain.  

You are absolutely covered in microbes with the gut being the richest source. You also have microbiomes on your eyes, in your mouth, on your nose, on your skin, and if you’re a female, in your vagina. 

Beginning at birth, you are covered in your mother’s microbes as you pass through the vagina, which begins the process of building your microbiomes. From there, what you eat and come in contact with continues to build your microbiomes until you’re about seven years old. Though your microbiomes continue to shift throughout your life, scientists believe you maintain a microbial signature, or a “fingerprint,” which is most similar to your mother’s. 

While all of this is impressive, what’s more impressive is how the gut microbiome plays a critical role in: 

  • Your digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Your immune system stability
  • Your hormone balance
  • Your cognitive function
  • Your skin appearance
  • Your heart health

There’s no doubt about it, the gut mircobiome’s role is far reaching – let’s take a closer look. 


Your Microbes & Your Digestion


The microorganisms living in your gut help you extract and synthesize many byproducts and nutrients you wouldn’t otherwise be able to obtain from your food. These microbes:

  • Digest your food
  • Use that food to create health boosting byproducts, like short chain fatty acids
  • Create important neurotransmitters
  • Synthesize vitamins
  • Create essential nutrients

These microbes also process foods we can’t digest on our own, including many fibers found in plants. We once thought these polysaccharides, oligosaccharides, and other carbohydrates were completely indigestible. But it turns out our microbes break these down and ferment them into  beneficial short chain fatty acids like, butyrate, propionate, and acetate.8 You’ve probably heard people regularly refer to these fibers as ‘prebiotics.’

Short chain fatty acids are protective against obesity, insulin resistance, and are anti-inflammatory. Due to the disease fighting power of these fatty acids, Viome’s personalized recommendations aim to support bacteria known to be high producers. 

Our microbes also largely regulate the energy extraction, storage, and use from our food. So much so, that scientists believe our weight may have much more to do with what microorganisms are in the gut, than how much we eat.9 

We’ve long said a “faster metabolism” helps us maintain a healthy weight, but it turns out a faster metabolism is not necessarily better since it can create a lot of oxidative stress and inflammation. Research indicates a healthy gut microbiome may be more important when it comes to a healthy weight. 

You can read more on how your microbes affect your digestion and shape your body in our blog: How An Unhealthy Gut Microbiome Can Make You Fat. 


Your Microbes & Your Immune System

 

Your gut microbiome teaches your immune system the difference between friend and foe, making it an integral part of how well it functions. On top of this, your gut is the home of 70- 80% of your immune system.10 

The interwoven relationship and constant communication between the gut microbiome and the immune system is a primary reason researchers are searching for cures to all sorts of illnesses in the gut. 

An imbalance of gut microbiota (also called dysbiosis) can contribute to increase permeability in the gut lining, which is more commonly called ‘leaky gut.’ When there are gaps in the gut lining, toxins, bacteria, and food particles can leak into the bloodstream and cause widespread inflammation throughout the body. This process has been implicated in:

  • Autoimmune disease
  • Heart disease
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinsons
  • Allergies
  • Cancer
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

And this is by no means a comprehensive list. You can read more about specific illnesses already liked to an imbalance of the gut gut microbiome in our blog: A Suspicious Gut Microbiome: 19 Conditions Linked to Dysbiosis 

Restoring the gut lining is a top priority in most chronic illness protocols. However, the problem with most gut health guidelines is they are generalized and often incomplete. Viome is able to see the gut inflammation and make recommendations based on what’s actually active – so you have recommendations that are specific to you. We live in a time where generalized diets are now obsolete, it’s time to eat a diet ideal for you, and only you. 


Your Microbes & Your Hormones


The gut microbiome is so essential to hormonal regulation and balance, it’s now considered part of the endocrine system.11 

Like an orchestra playing a harmonious symphony, hormones circulate throughout the body in delicate rhythms, keeping numerous systems in order. Front and center is your gut microbiome, like a conductor, ensuring everything plays in tune and on time.

When you’re gut microbiome is out of tune, it can throw off the hormone harmony. The effects of hormonal imbalance can spread throughout the body and lead to a cascade of health conditions, ranging from unintended weight gain to thyroid dysfunction.12 This is yet another connection that has scientists searching the gut for clues to cure hormone-related conditions.


Your Microbes & Your Mental Health 


You know those ‘butterflies’ you feel in the pit of your stomach when you’re nervous? That’s more than a sensation, it’s your gut communicating directly with your brain. 

The gut-brain connection is constant and even has its own designated line of communication – the vagus nerve. In fact, the biggest producer of your happy neurotransmitter – serotonin – isn’t even the brain, it’s your gut microbiome, which produces over 90%.13

Changes in the gut microbiome has been linked to the mind on many levels – it affects:14,15

  • Your mood
  • Your happiness
  • Your pain tolerance
  • Your cognitive performance
  • Your behavior
  • Your mental health

The gut-brain connection is so strong, one of the fastest growing areas of neuroscience looks at the gut first. 


Your Microbes & Your Skin 


Beauty truly starts from the inside out. The gut microbiome plays a direct role on the appearance of your skin through influencing:

  1. Inflammation – The underlying cause of most disease.
  2. Oxidative stress – A major cause of inflammation.  
  3. Tissue lipid levels – A factor important for a healthy metabolism.
  4. Glycemic control – Your ability to balance blood sugar.
  5. Neuropeptide levels – A factor linked to your mood, pain tolerance, and body’s homeostasis (balance).
  6. Opportunistic bacteria – Harmful bacteria that can cause conditions when it overgrows.

All of these affect the skin and are largely influence by the microorganisms living in your gut. 

When it comes to autoimmune skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis, the gut is known to be a major drive behind the worsening of these conditions. The gut’s fundamental role in skin health is why so many creams and lotions are a waste of money – read more about that here: Why Skin Creams & Acne Probiotics Don’t Work – Understanding the Gut-Skin Axis

When it comes to our customers, an exciting piece of feedback we regularly hear are how Viome recommendation improve their skin. The skin is considered a window to gut health, and when you work to restore the gut – your skin reaps the benefits. 


Your Microbes & Your Heart 


Could the gut microbiome be a predictor of heart disease? Researchers from the University of Cambridge seem to think so.16 

They found that certain metabolites, such as trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), could be a good indicator of heart disease risk. High levels of TMAO in the body occur when bacteria convert choline into trimethylamine (TMA), which then is absorbed by the body and converted to the harmful version – TMAO. 

Choline is found in many animal products and legumes, which might make you want to cut back on these foods. However, the initial part of this conversion – from choline to TMA – only occurs when you have certain bacteria in your microbiome. For example, if you have high levels of gammaproteobacteria, which are known for this conversion, it’s more likely that high choline foods will cause your heart problems. 

I think we’d all love know if high choline foods are contributing to heart disease biomarkers or not. The great news is with metatranscriptomic technology, Viome can see whether these pathways are active or not. It is our mission to make this information accessible to everyone one day, so they can make the simple adjustment to their diet to reduce their risk for heart disease. 


Diversity is Key


There is no doubt that the gut microbiome plays an integral role in nearly every aspect of human health. Making the next obvious question: 

What can we do to improve the health of our gut microbiome?

Preserving and promoting diversity is essential to good gut microbiome health. This is because a diverse gut microbiome is more resilient to changes. Just like in ecosystems such as a jungle can survive extreme changes when there is a higher biodiversity the gut microbiota does much better when there are many different players. Another way to think of this is a diverse group can spread and share burdens better. 

Another reason diversity is essential is because scientists believe it provides your body with an array of metabolites. This is because your gut microbiome adapts to provide you with essential products like short-chain fatty acids. When you have many different microbes, your gut can shift production lines better depending on what resources are available.  

You can read more about the importance of diversity in our blog: The Secret to a Healthy Gut Microbiome? Diversity, Diversity, Diversity!

The bottom line is this: A more diverse gut microbiome, is a healthier gut microbiome. 

We live in a world that’s constantly assaulting the microbes living on our body through antibiotics, overly sanitary conditions, and lifestyles more separated from nature. Is up to us to counterbalance the harmful effects and promote better gut microbiome health. 


Join Viome, at the Forefront of the Gut Microbiome Revolution


Viome is on a mission to make chronic illness optional through promoting personalized gut microbiome health. 

We all know someone who’s fallen victim to chronic illness, be it Alzheimer's, autoimmune disease, or diabetes – and we all know once treatment begins it’s often too late. Viome is about intervening early and giving customers informed choices to improve their health dramatically through a personalized nutrition plan.

The testimonials Viome receives on a daily basis are inspiring. Weight loss, acne clearing up, pain reduction, better digestion, mood stability, and more. While Viome can’t guarantee what your personal results may find – we continue to uncover more benefits.


What to Expect with Viome


When you get your Viome test, it’s a quick 3-minute at home sample you send off to the Viome lab. After a few weeks, you’ll get your results delivered right to your Viome app. Your Viome recommendations break down the foods you should eat into personalized food categories and serving sizes:

  • Superfoods
  • Indulge
  • Enjoy
  • Minimize
  • Avoid

These foods are designed to make your personal gut microbiome more diverse – which as you know, is the cornerstone of good gut health. When you get your Viome recommendations, you’ll know exactly what you should eat instead of wasting your money, time, and energy on supposed “superfoods,” which might not even be ‘super’ for you at all. 

Get started today – What will your Viome results uncover about your gut microbiome?


Important Microbiome Terms at a Glance


Microbiota vs. Microbiome:


We want to distinguish between the microbiota and the microbiome. Your gut microbiota is the collection of actual microorganisms, whereas the microbiome is a collection of all the different genes those organisms collectively have. The genetic material of your gut microbiome outnumbers your personal genome 150 times.  


Diversity:


High diversity of microorganisms is associated with better gut microbiome health and overall human health. Low microbial biodiversity is associated with many chronic diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.7


Dysbiosis:


Dysbiosis refers to an imbalance or dysfunction in the gut microbiota. Dysbiosis has been associated with numerous chronic health conditions, from autoimmune disease to Alzheimer’s and more.7 


Metatranscriptome:


This is the collection of RNA molecules from expressed genes by active microbes. This is an important distinction because not all microbes nor their genes are active. Metatranscriptomic  sequencing technology allows Viome to see what's actually active through gene expression. 


Opportunistic: 


Bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella often get a bad name and are usually referred to as “pathogens.” But gut microbiome research has found that we often need these bacteria to some degree – that they are only harmful in high numbers. So, instead of calling these bacteria “pathogens,” it’s more appropriate to call them “opportunistic” because if given the chance, they may bloom and cause problems. However, we’re finding that we need them for basic biological functions. 


Pathways:


Pathways are a series of steps that make up biochemical reactions in the body. There can be different pathways that end in the same result, just as there are different routes to get from New York to Washington D.C. Your gut microbiome is very dynamic and can use different combinations of food and microorganisms (pathways) to get important metabolites made. 


Functions:


Functions are the end result of a pathway. The same function or result can occur from different pathways. Functions are how Viome can create health scores and give you deep insights into your gut microbiome health.



Resources:


  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25846319 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4056765/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4798912/ 
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/outbreaks/multistate-outbreaks/outbreaks-list.html
  5. http://www.who.int/medicines/publications/global-priority-list-antibiotic-resistant-bacteria/en/ 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4191014/   
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4815357/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23609775
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12055347 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2515351/ 
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24892638 
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29320965 
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4393509/ 
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24997043 
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4886662/ 
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4333723/ 



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