A Changing Gut Microbiome May Predict How Well You Age (NY Times)

Sakina Lakda
March 28, 2021

Research suggests that it may be possible to predict a personโ€™s likelihood of living a long and healthy life by testing their gut bacteria and analysing its composition. Our gut contains trillions of bacteria, viruses, and fungi and they change over the course of our lives. This gut microbiome is unique to each person and is influenced by the food we eat. People who consume more fibre tend to have a more varied gut microbiome and are generally healthier than those who consume processed foods higher in sugar and salt- leading to a more static gut microbiome.

Food for Thought

Can we use this knowledge to improve health?

The article suggests people who eat healthy foods have a more varied gut microbiome, and therefore tend to have better health and live longer. They need fewer medications, have better physical health, walk faster and have better mobility. If we know how the gut microbiome can improve health, can you think of innovative ways in which scientists can use this information to improve people's health? Think about medicines or foods (e.g. actimel) and how they could change our microbiome!


The impact of lifestyle on health

Like our gut microbiome, many chronic conditions in developed countries are the result of behaviours such as poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Chronic diseases include conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis. They are often very preventable if people eat well and are active. Unfortunately, chronic diseases are costly to manage and have a huge financial burden on the NHS. Treatment for chronic diseases can be complex and usually include a combination of medication, lifestyle changes and therapy. Previously, they were more common in the elderly population, but we are seeing more and more young people with these conditions. Why do you think the rates of chronic disease are so high in the UK? Can you think of why people struggle to manage their chronic disease once they have been diagnosed?


Practice Interview QUestions
  1. Empathy Question for MMI: You are faced with an actor playing a 65-year-old man who has just been diagnosed with colon cancer. He is coming to his GP for advice on how to cope with his diagnosis as he has heard about the burden cancer can have on a person's family and on the healthcare service. Whilst talking to you he breaks down into tears. How would you approach this patient?
  2. Can you find some examples of measures taken by the NHS to encourage healthy living for the public? If you were to have a meeting with the health minister, what additional ideas would you suggest? Hint: look up the sugar tax and smoking policies!
  3. Is it fair for more money and resources to be used to treat preventable chronic conditions, when there are non-preventable diseases that may not be receiving enough funding?


Extra Reading (optional)