Scientist have recently discovered how microbes in our gut can be linked to different diseases that may be present in your body. They have found that the microbiome in our gut can even anticipate the risk of dying within the next 15 years.
Researchers reviewed 47 studies that looked at the associations between the collective genomes of gut microbes and 13 common diseases. They used complex diseases such as asthma, hypertension, and schizophrenia because they can be caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Researchers then compared the studies with 24 genome-wide association studies that correlated with specific genetic variants in diseases.
The genetic signature of gut microbes are 20% better at determining whether a person is healthy or ill in comparison with a person’s own genes. The microbiome is 50% better than GWA studies at predicting whether a person has colorectal cancer. However, a person’s genetic profile outperformed the microbiome for predicting whether someone has type 1 diabetes.
Though study author Braden Tierney, a computational biologist at Harvard Medical School, admits the analysis is preliminary, he says the work could ultimately benefit people. “We can use both the microbiome and human genetics in the clinic to improve patient quality of life.” The goal, he says, is to identify key markers in both sets of genomes that could help diagnose these complex diseases.
Jeroen Raes of the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology, believes that scientists don’t know nearly as much about the microbiome as they do about how our genes work. So comparing the two at this point is “risky.”One advantage of the microbiome is that it’s impacted by a person’s environment. As such, it may be a better predictor of diseases like type 2 diabetes, which tend to have large environmental components.
In the second study, researchers studied the correlation between a person’s microbiome and their life span. That analysis used a Finnish study that had been collecting health data from thousands of people since 1972. Starting in 2002, many of the participants in the study donated stool samples for 15 years. The data revealed that individuals with an abundance of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria are 15% more likely to die in the next 15 years.
For both studies, it’s still unclear why the microbiome is linked to death and disease. It’s possible the microbes are causing disease or shortening someone’s life span in some way. But it can also be possible they’re just reflecting what is going on inside the body.