If your job is to provide science-based nutrition – and sometimes lifestyle – advice to individuals, patients, schools, sport teams, health agencies, grocery stores, food manufacturers, or a myriad of any other individuals, businesses and governments who seek such services, you have been doing so with one hand tied behind your back.
This is not the fault of any particular person, but a function of how the process of science is slow to provide truths or certainties about anything – much less what we should eat for optimal health. But that is all about to change. If you are a Registered Dietitian or Nutritional Consultant of any kind, participating in the American Gut project will give you a front row seat to the genomic science that’s changing the very notion of Self, what makes us sick, and potentially provide some insight into the diet and lifestyle choices that might nudge our gut microbes in a more healthy direction.
All nutrition and lifestyle advice up until this point – mostly up until this point – has treated the individual as this mono genomic creature made up of genes handed down from mom and dad; with all nutrition and meal planning based on some institutional or national notion of a healthy and balanced diet with consideration given for age, gender, physical activity, disease state and so on. And in almost all cases (but not all), further emphasis is placed on the total amount of calories in the meal or the day. Fair enough.
However, advances in genomic tools, computing power, and mounting evidence reveal that we may want to formulate nutritional and lifestyle strategies that acknowledge that 99.9% of the genes (and 90% of the cells) that make up the human body are not human, but microbial. As for that 800-pound gorilla in the room – obesity? Maybe 2013 will be the year we finally start treating this metabolic disease and its roots in systemic inflammation, from the more correct perspective of physiology, with a little less emphasis on physics (energy in–energy out hypothesis).
As patients and clients have done for over a decade, downloading and printing out diagnosis, theories and general information from the internet for points of discussion in meetings and consultations will continue, but with one striking difference in 2013: more of those print outs and discussions will be on the role of the gut microbiome (microbes and their genes) in obesity and just about every other ailment imaginable (some related, some not). The graph below (thanks @symbionticism) of Google searches for the word “microbiome” since 2007 suggest that this might already be happening.
With the publishing of the results of the recently completed Human Microbiome Project in the summer of 2012, we have entered a period that will likely witness the creation and rise of an entire new field of medicine: medical ecology. Nutrition will most certainly likely sit at its core.
Since the national examination administered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration does not currently require an understanding of the role of diet and nutrition in the modulation and health of the gut microbiome, the recently launched American Gut project might be a great first step in understanding the metagenomic tools and diet and lifestyle decisions that might be shaping the composition of the human gut.
Any diet and nutrition specialist who takes advantage of this opportunity – not only to contribute to our larger understand through citizen science – will place themselves in a better position to understand the waterfall of new studies and research that has come and will be coming in 2013 an beyond. By having your own gut microbiota sequenced, you will possess the powerful tool of context in which to assist and guide the population as whole. We hope you can join us.
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