Discoveries Magazine


You Are What You Ate

You are special, and it’s time you started eating like it.

A hundred trillion microbes live in and on you, and the population of bacteria in your gut— your microbiome — is as unique as a snowflake.

Suzanne Devkota, PhD, a Cedars-Sinai research scientist, parses the relationship of diet, the gut microbiome, and disease. “We know now that medicine is not a one-size-fits-all discipline. Neither is diet,” she says.

Everyone is born with certain disease risks baked into their DNA, but environment plays a huge role in whether or not a condition actually develops. Devkota, who studies inflammatory bowel diseases as well as diabetes and obesity, explains that changing the gut microbiome can help some people manage disease or even avoid it altogether. “Bacteria are exquisitely sensitive to the foods we eat,” she says. “I use diet to manipulate the microbiome in research studies and look for links to disease.” She has employed the technique in mice and soon plans to test its advantages in human subjects.

Microbiomics is a rapidly expanding field made possible by advances in genetic sequencing. Devkota plans to compile a massive database that combines patients’ genomic data, microbiome profiles, and other health information.

“No one — yet — has mechanistic data to provide insights to patients about food beyond, ‘you have a sensitivity,’” Devkota says. “We can do so much better.”

The convenient thing about a dietary change is that, unlike a new medication, it carries little risk and does not require Food and Drug Administration approval. “If we discover something in the lab today around diet, we can make a dietary recommendation tomorrow,” Devkota says.

Taking that concept even further, investigators envision developing personalized solutions such as proprietary fiber blends or tailored probiotics — so, eventually, each one of us might be consuming a diet that is as specialized as the microbes with whom we share it.

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