Around here, we’re big on gut health and for good reasons; Your gut has its own brain and it informs your overall health. But did you know that the microbes in your gut could predict whether you’re likely to die in the next 15 years?
That’s right! According to two new studies our microbiome—the mix of microbes in our gut—can reveal the presence of many diseases better than our own genes can. They can even anticipate our risk of dying within the next 15 years!
Researchers reviewed 47 studies looking at associations between the collective genomes of the gut microbes and 13 common diseases in the first study. The diseases included schizophrenia, hypertension, and asthma—all of which are considered “complex” because they are caused by both environmental and genetic factors. Then they compared these studies with 24 genome-wide association (GWA) studies that correlate specific human genetic variants with diseases.
What they found was that the telltale sign of the gut microbes was 20% better at discriminating between a healthy and an ill person than a person’s own genes noting that the microbiome was 50% better than GWA studies at predicting whether someone had colorectal cancer. Genetic profiling only outperformed the microbiome for predicting whether someone had type 1 diabetes.
“We can use both the microbiome and human genetics in the clinic to improve patient quality of life,” study author Braden Tierney, a computational biologist at Harvard Medical School, said. The goal is to identify key markers in both sets of genomes that could help diagnose these complex diseases. Even though the analysis is preliminary, he says the work could ultimately benefit people.
The second study focused more on taking a look at the link between a person’s microbiome and their life span using findings from a Finnish study that has been collecting health data from thousands of participants since 1972. In 2002, participants donated stool samples that were sequenced 15 years later. The data revealed that individuals with an abundance of Enterobacteriaceae bacteria—a family of potentially infectious bacteria that includes Escherichia coli and salmonella—are 15% more likely to die in the next 15 years. The finding of the link between the gut bacteria and the increased risk of death was the same across eastern and western Finnish populations, which have different genetic backgrounds and lifestyles.
It’s still not clear as to why the microbiome is linked to death and disease in both studies. Whatever the reason, we definitely need to take a closer look at it. And it’s certainly clear that we need to listen to our gut!