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Precision Nutrition: A Story of Wellness

Metabolomics is revealing how microbiomes can be modified to improve health and prevent disease

Aaron Hudson, PhD

Aaron Hudson, PhD, is vice president, global marketing and strategy at SCIEX, a global leader in the sensitive and precise quantification of molecules. SCIEX is part of the Danaher (NYSE:DHR) family of global science and technology innovators and is committed to helping customers solve complex challenges, improving the quality of life around the world, and in doing so, realizing life’s potential.


The proverb, “You are what you eat,” expresses the belief that eating healthy food will result in a healthy body (and mind). As it turns out, this saying is not so far off the mark. Modern research using advanced analytical methods has revealed that our diets can significantly affect our microbiome—the beneficial bacteria in our gut, on our skin, and elsewhere in our bodies—which in turn affects other parts of our body. Malfunction or dysbiosis of the microbiome has been associated with numerous diseases (see Figure 1).1 

Figure 1: Examples of diseases that have been associated with dysbiosis in human microbiota.2–9

Many of these findings have been made possible by omics research—particularly metabolomics, which complements other omics such as genomics—by providing a detailed snapshot of an individual’s current status in terms of health, disease, and response to medical therapies.

The advent of precision nutrition

Innovative advances in LC-MS technologies and methods are contributing to the burgeoning of metabolomics and other omics (e.g., proteomics and lipidomics) research in the biomedical and life sciences. The study of the microbiome using omics analyses, i.e., microbiomics, allows us to better understand human health and disease, and how the trifecta of microbiome, human host, and environment impact these states. 

Diet is an important modifiable risk factor for several diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity. It is becoming increasingly apparent that diet may also affect other diseases that are less intuitively connected to what we eat. For instance, dietary factors are increasingly being recognized as potential modifiers of multiple sclerosis, implicated in its onset and throughout the disease course. 2

While this diet–disease relationship in multiple sclerosis still needs to be validated by large clinical trials, the early research indicates there are possible mechanisms that could be directly mediating these effects. These include metabolite changes directly from dietary modifications, or alternatively the metabolites that are produced by the gut microbiota.2

Findings such as these, along with clear healthy eating guidelines promoted by governments and health authorities, are leading more people to closely consider what they eat. Indeed, the notion of “precision nutrition” is growing and converging with the public adoption of new health-tracking technologies. 

This past January, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reported on an interdisciplinary group of researchers working to translate microbiome research findings into microbiome-based treatments for a wide range of diseases.3 And the MIT group is not alone, with several start-ups and nonprofit organizations springing up in this space.

Direct-to-consumer microbiome tests

There are also several direct-to-consumer microbiome tests available (e.g., Viome, Psomagen, Thyrve, etc.) to assess gut health.4–6 However, none have been approved by the U.S. FDA, and in general, scientists consider these kits somewhat premature as their validity and utility rely on the generalizability of their results, which may be difficult to establish given that each person’s microbiome is unique and changes with age.7,8

In addition, some of these kits only measure the genetic profile of a person’s microbiome, which alone may not provide specific information, as genes typically simultaneously affect multiple different interdependent biological systems and do not solely control health and disease outcomes, which are usually affected by environmental factors. Such a test would also provide little information on the person’s metabolism as a whole.9 Therefore, the diagnostics and treatments being developed for both wellness and disease will need to be personalized to some extent to be effective. 

With the recent surge of investment in biomedicine following the emergence of COVID-19, coupled with an industry shift toward precision medicine, we will likely soon see precision nutrition used not only for wellness but also for disease prevention and amelioration.

References:

  1. The Integrative HMP (iHMP) Research Network Consortium. The Integrative Human Microbiome Project. Nature. 2019; 569, 641–648. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-019-1238-8.
  2. Sand IK. The Role of Diet in Multiple Sclerosis: Mechanistic Connections and Current Evidence. Curr Nutr Rep. 2018; 7: 150–160. doi: 10.1007/s13668-018-0236-z.
  3. Winn Z. Turning microbiome research into a force for health. MIT News. January 5, 2021. Accessed April 28, 2021. https://news.mit.edu/2021/microbiome-research-health-0105.
  4. BIOHM Gut Test. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.biohmhealth.com/products/gut-report-kit-new.
  5. Thryve Gut Health Test. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://www.thryveinside.com/products/thryves-gut-health-test.
  6. Viome Gut Intelligence Test. Accessed June 11, 2021. https://beta.viome.com/products/gut-intelligence.
  7. Wilmanski T, Diener C, Rappaport N, et al. Gut microbiome pattern reflects healthy ageing and predicts survival in humans. Nat Metab. 2021; 3: 274–286. doi: 10.1038/s42255-021-00348-0.
  8. Loughman A, Staudacher H. Boosting your ‘gut health’ sounds great. But this wellness trend is vague and often misunderstood. Accessed July 1, 2021. https://theconversation.com/boosting-your-gut-health-sounds-great-but-this-wellness-trend-is-vague-and-often-misunderstood-155472.
  9. Staley C, Kaiser T, Khoruts A. Clinician Guide to Microbiome Testing. Dig Dis Sci. 2018; 63:3167–3177. doi: 10.1007/s10620-018-5299-6.