Voices: Power Lunch

September Power Lunch: Don't Ignore 100 Trillion Microbes

The crucial link between the gut microbiome and human health and disease sets the stage for a revolution in the food industry.

By Camilla Stice, Lux Research

The food industry may undergo a revolution as we expand our understanding of the complex and intimate role food has on human health and disease.

Identification of the gut microbiome, the collective population of over 100 trillion microbes living in the human digestive tract, as a new player in the space is changing our fundamental understanding of how we as humans respond to our food.

New scientific understanding shows that the human response to food is a combination of our own body’s response and that of the bacteria in our lower gut. Researchers now know that the microbial community associated with the human body plays an incredibly complex role in human health and disease.

The symbiotic metabolism between humans and their microbiome influences an extensive range of human physiology including nutrition metabolism, immune function and even brain development.

This knowledge creates vast opportunities for personalized nutrition through the development of new foods, ingredients and supplements that target gut microbial – and therefore human – health.

A new report from Lux Research – "Eating for 100 Trillion: Symbiotic Metabolism and the Microbiome Revolution" – evaluates the growth of microbiome research, and its widening range of potential applications and impact on the food industry. Among its findings:

  • Research activity is exploding. Microbiome publications have ballooned from 78 in 2000 to over 2,000 in 2013, and the International Human Microbiome Consortium’s funding has risen to $250 million and spans 10 countries. Venture capital-funded companies have emerged with applications such as probiotics, metabolic diagnostics and personalized nutrition.
  • Increasing industry interest in the microbiome is driving innovation. Advances in knowledge of the microbiome space have piqued the interest of industry developers. A growing number of companies are working to harness multiple potential applications of the microbiome in areas of therapeutics, diagnostic tests, personal DNA sequencing, nutrigenomics and pre- and probiotic foods and supplements. This interest, combined with significant technological advances, creates vast opportunities for foods and ingredients targeting optimal health and disease prevention through personalized nutrition.
  • Fundamental shift in thinking. The microbiome is known to play a crucial role in gut health, nutrient metabolism, immune function, and even cognitive function. Further, microbiome research links microbial dysbiosis, or the shift of microbial populations, to a myriad of disease states. Manipulation of gut microbial populations could be the key to reducing the prevalence of many diseases, including obesity, diabetes, immune function, mental disabilities and cancers.
  • Wide range of potential applications. In addition to therapeutics and diagnostics, the microbiome has tremendous potential in applications such as animal diets and skin care. For example, cosmetics giant L’Oreal is targeting certain microbial strains through skin creams and lotions to protect the skin and remedy skin problems such as greasy, spotty and rough complexions.

Accelerating advances in our understanding of the role these microbes play in human health, coupled with advances in genomics, sequencing and consumer electronics, create novel diagnostics to measure nutritional well-being. As researchers discover new evidence, it is becoming increasingly clear that specific foods and ingredients have the potential to replace medicine, particularly in early disease management. This idea, combined with heightened consumer awareness and empowerment, positions personalized nutrition as the future of food.

Together, these promise a fundamental rethinking of our understanding of health and wellness, metabolism and disease, and food and nutrition. Further, within the microbiome revolution lies the potential to explain and respond to the global epidemic in obesity and diabetes, why certain diets work better than others, how inflammatory diseases can occur, and finally, how we can rationally design new food products to optimize personalized health and wellness.

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