We live in a world filled with probiotic supplements, drinks (hello, kombucha!), and foods all claiming to improve gut health. However, with much research still to be done (some of it through Stanford's new Microbiome Therapies Initiative), it remains unclear whether any of these goodies benefit health.
This uncertainty was addressed during a recent episode of "The Future of Everything," featuring host Russ Altman, MD, PhD, and guest Ami Bhatt, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and genetics. They discussed the role diet and lifestyle play in a healthy microbiome, and the ways the microbiome may interact with our immune system.
Bhatt, who has developed new ways to measure the presence of bacteria in the human body, explained that it's challenging to determine whether a particular bacterial strain in our gut is a "good guy" or a "bad guy":
"We typically [indentify bacteria] based on what they grow on, what they like to eat, what color they stain, what shape they are, but now what we're understanding is that organisms that look really similar under the microscope with very similar characteristics can have totally different genomes, meaning they can do totally different things," she said.
A lot of the current efforts in the field have been dedicated to identifying exactly what strains are there, and what they're doing, she pointed out.
Bhatt explained that there has been a common trend observed in many studies about what a healthy gut microbiome could look like.
"In general, we're coming to a consensus that... having a more diverse community is better," she said. "Having a larger variety of different types of organisms is probably better than the alternative, which is having a handful of organisms that are present at a high abundance."
This, however, is just the beginning, Bhatt explained, as there is no one version of a "healthy microbiome." There is still much to discover and understand about the ways the microbiome behaves and interacts with other systems, such as the immune system, in contributing to a healthy individual overall.
To hear more about the many ways scientists like Bhatt are at the forefront of understanding and altering it, have a listen.
Photo by Emerson