July 27, 2017

What does your gut microbiome tell you?

Your diet could be having an even greater impact on your health than you realize. Dr. Steve Lindemann believes we can learn a lot more from our gut microbiome. His current research, in partnership with Purdue's Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research, is to find out more about how our dietary influences shape the gut microbiome, and its effects on our overall health. "We know that what we eat controls which microbes live inside our guts," said Lindemann. "We don't yet know what food compounds or variables are most important and influencing the gut microbiome. We don't know the rules for why gut microbes rise and fall in abundance over time. That's what we're trying to figure out so we can predict how what we eat will affect the gut microbiome. The cause and effect is important not just for our digestive health, but also for our immune system and our neural and cardiovascular health." Lindemann is using molecular microbial ecology techniques to understand:

  • How diet influences the composition and stability of the gut microbiome
  • How gut microbiome metabolism of dietary components influences production and absorption of bioactive microbial metabolites
  • How metabolic interactions between microbes alter dietary fiber fermentation and nitrogen metabolism in the colon
  • How these interactions between beneficial microbes exclude pathogenic organisms and modulate inflammation in the colon.
Advances in these spheres hold the potential for identifying dietary solutions to health problems by influencing the gut microbiome. The Whistler Center serves as an industrial and academic collaboration portal to give definition to dietary carbohydrates and what they're doing to our health. "The Whistler Center is one of the main reasons I'm here," he said. "It's a comprehensive, interdisciplinary group working on dietary fibers with deep structural expertise. We're looking at the carbs we eat, mostly from plants, which reach our colon. As a microbiologist, interfacing with experts in carbohydrate structure at Whistler allows me to look at problems in interdisciplinary ways." By pulling apart the cause-effect relationship of food and the gut microbiome, Lindemann believes we can design foods that optimize microbiome health. The goal is to achieve compound-specific understanding. For example, "What is a certain dietary fiber's effect on the gut microbiome?" As a microbiome specialist, what drew Lindemann to the research was the opportunity to learn more about microbial travelers, and why some benefit humans and others do not. With his research, he seeks to understand interactions and what causes certain ones to be valuable, or which ones become pathogens. "It's not just what we eat that matters, but the interactions among the foods we eat and the gut microbes we house," said Lindemann. "Understanding that can help us engineer dietary ways to improve our health." Besides addressing common issues like irritable bowel syndrome and colitis, research shows other diseases, like metabolic syndrome, colorectal cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and more may be related to the gut microbiome. Gut microbes may be governing our behavior, or even neurological and mental disorders. Lindemann believes his research may help to better identify these links. "We're taking a cutting edge look at diet and how it impacts our bodies," said Lindemann. Through the Food Science department, we have an opportunity to guide functional food design and explore prebiotic and probiotic methods of improving health in the gut and beyond."