Nutritional Outlook

Nutritional Outlook, May 2018

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NUTRITIONAL OUTLOOK ■ 35 MAY 2018 asocial behavior, anxiety, and depression, as well as suicidal tendencies, autism spectrum, and even Alzheimer's disease. Adds Petrosino, "T e f eld is currently moving beyond association studies—which microbes or microbial-community features are associated with health?—to attempting to identify the functions encoded by bacteria and bacterial communities that are responsi- ble for the ef ects observed." T e goal: identify bacterial targets for the development of new therapeutics or even diagnostic biomarkers. "In some cases, individual organisms may have a profound therapeutic impact," Petro- sino says, "or a community of organisms may be important to maintaining or promoting a healthy outcome." Known Knowns Ralf Jäger, FISSN, CISSN, consultant, Phar- machem Laboratories Inc. (Kearny, NJ), agrees—to an extent. "We now have a good understanding of the makeup of the human gut microbiome," he notes. "Yet the question still remains: Can we make short- or long- term changes to the overall makeup of the gut microbiome, and do those changes result in meaningful long-term health benef ts?" Mervyn de Souza, PhD, vice president, health and wellness, NPD, innovation and commercial development, Tate & Lyle (Hof - man Estates, IL), also notes "an acknowledg- ment by many microbiome researchers re- garding the need to focus on causality versus correlation." While data is rife with relation- ships linking, say, microbiome compositions and activities and certain health or disease states, in many cases, de Souza says, "it's not clear if a microbiome that's associated with a disease is a contributing factor or just a con- sequence of that disease state." What is certain, he says, is that the mi- crobiome "has an important impact on us humans—that's been established and, for the most part, accepted." And the com- plexity of its interactions with its hosts, as well as with external factors like diet and geography, is equally undeniable. But go- ing forward, the f eld will need "collabora- tion across broad areas of expertise to drive analysis and interpretation of the massive amounts of existing and new sequencing information," de Souza says. Translation to Formulation T at's a steep hill for science to climb, and the summit's still a hike away. Yet if researchers are impatient, dietary supplement marketers might be even more so. After all, with pub- lic curiosity about the microbiome—to say nothing of good old-fashioned probiotics—as robust as ever, companies that can formu- late microbiome benef ts into their products stand to win. And to hear Petrosino tell it, "the translation to products or interventions is already starting to happen." "We already have probiotics, prebiotics, syn- biotics, immunobiotics—dead 'probiotics'— and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha to improve gut health," Jäger concurs. "But if the microbiome allows us to identify a specif c def ciency in the gut micro- biome makeup, specif c and targeted probiot- ics might be the best way to improve health." Which product category will benef t most from current gut microbiome work is anyone's guess. "But as knowledge progresses," Jäger says, "we'll f nd more ingredients that either benef cially or negatively inf uence the gut microbiome." Petrosino wagers that an advantage will accrue to products able "to distinguish themselves from the probiotics that existed before the microbiome started to be explored rigorously," as earlier products were often "poorly formulated" or unable to deliver live organisms to the gastrointestinal sites where they're active. And he believes that prebiotics designed "to 'fertilize our bacterial gardens,' as it were, will be among the f rst products we see emerging." Stepwise Process Bringing such development to fruition "will be a four-step process," Jäger predicts, with the f rst step continuing the microbiome mapping and sequencing that's already taught us so much. But in addition to sequencing, de Souza advocates for mechanistic studies to reveal how microbiome metabolites, for instance, might mediate important host-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions. For example, he says there's "solid data" on the produc- tion of short-chain fatty acids in the colon that impact mineral absorption; research his company has conducted with Connie M. Weaver, a professor in the department of nutrition science at Purdue University, has found that the microbiome, in concert with a branded form of Tate & Lyle's soluble f - ber, mediates calcium absorption and bone strength. "We could use more information on the breadth of microbiome-derived natural products, the functional roles of these me- tabolites and corresponding host impacts, as well as the inf uence of diet," he says. After sequencing and mechanistic work, Jäger continues, we'll still need to identify "unique features of the microbiome for spe- cif c subgroups of the population," while also def ning what's "normal," and how variations on that norm can still have a meaningful— though not negative—ef ect. "T ird," he says, "we have to answer the chicken-or-egg question: Is a unique mi- crobiome the reason for superior health or disease, or is it simply a byproduct of such status"—again, teasing correlation from cau- sation. And the last step, Jäger says, answers this question: "Can we change the microbial makeup, and does this indeed have a benef - cial ef ect on health?" In many cases, "it's not clear if a microbiome that's associated with a disease is a contributing factor or just a consequence of that disease state," says Tate & Lyle's Mervyn de Souza.

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